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A new chapter

June 01, 2024
By: Dan Berglund

Two weeks ago, I let the SSTI Board of Trustees know that I wanted to step down as President & CEO and that a search for a successor be launched. After leading the organization since its inception in 1996, I had come to the conclusion now was the right time for a new chapter both for SSTI and for me. The job posting for the new President & CEO can be found at https://ssti.applytojob.com/apply/OSDVL6j7zk/President-CEO with a pdf of the full description at: https://ssti.org/sites/default/files/SSTI%20President%20CEO%20Job%20Desc...

I won’t be going away entirely and more on that later.

I have been involved in this field that has become known as tech-based economic development (TBED) for almost four decades, both speaking for and to the field as the head of SSTI for the last 28 years. TBED was largely a new field when I started in it in 1985, but even then the hallmarks of the field were evident:

  • We were learning from each other, happily sharing information across state lines to make our work better;
  • We worked to evaluate our programs and the impacts they were having, so we could improve our outcomes;
  • The beneficiaries of the work were at the table designing the programs and putting their money into the efforts as well; and,
  • As economic and societal conditions changed and program evaluations were conducted, we changed our approaches to respond.

We were a niche field often battling with our colleagues in other divisions of the economic development department for resources, trying to explain why making long-term investments in higher education and technologies that defied easy explanation was a good bet for our region. But we were young, scrappy, entrepreneurial and dedicated to the public purpose of our work.

Fast forward, forty years and the field has shifted with new approaches and new technologies, plus increased attention and interest due to technology’s increased prevalence and the billions of federal dollars going into programs like Tech Hubs, Build Back Better Regional Challenge, and NSF Engines. Yet, the standards the field established 40 years ago still apply and need to be followed.

I’m proud of the work we’ve done. Among SSTI’s accomplishments over the last 28 years are:

  • Creating a community of people who are working toward a similar goal even if their approaches are different, a community where people share not just their strengths, but their worries and questions;
  • Providing tools for people to learn about the best way to approach a problem and learn from other’s experiences;
  • Advocating for the field on Capitol Hill, in the federal agencies, and with state legislatures; and,
  • Reminding the field of core principles for effective management.

After 28 years, 25 annual conferences, almost 1300 issues of the SSTI Weekly Digest, work with all 50 states, countless meetings with elected officials and navigating three recessions, I’m proud of what we’ve done and, frankly, that we’re still standing (running on member dues is no easy feat!). I am also in a word: exhausted.

It’s time for someone else to lead SSTI and take on the new challenges ahead.

As word has leaked out about my decision, I’ve been receiving a lot of nice messages about “all I have accomplished.” They’re flattering and I greatly appreciate the kind words, but I want to stress that what SSTI has accomplished has been as a result of all of us.

I might be the most visible SSTI person, but over these first 28 years, 66 people have worked for SSTI, all contributing to our work. The dozens of people that have served on the SSTI Board have provided wisdom and secured resources to help us meet our mission. Every member that has answered a question, offered to help someone new to the field, and paid their dues has furthered our cause. The foundations and federal agencies that have supported our work have helped move the field forward.

I could spend pages listing all of the people who have helped SSTI and the field.

So, it’s not about me, it’s about what we have all done together. Working together and hewing to those early hallmarks of the field will ensure continued success.

As a born worrier (thanks, Mom!), I will confess that I am concerned about the sudden flood of “experts” that are weighing in suddenly on what regions, states and the federal government should be doing. They may come in the form of think tanks, consultants, non-profit organizations and academics. Eye skeptically those who have proscriptions for what should be done but have no practical experience in the field. Or those that say no one has ever done this before. To those, I encourage you to take a look at the Fraunhofer in Germany, operating since 1949. Or ask your nearest large library for a copy of Partnerships: A Compendium of State and Federal Cooperative Technology Programs published in 1995 and the forerunner to SSTI.

It is that wariness that led me to suggest my upcoming role to the SSTI Board of Trustees. Once a successor is selected and they start (hopefully in September), I’ll shift to a part-time position as Senior Fellow and President Emeritus. My focus will be on research and writing, getting down on paper the lessons we’ve learned over these last four decades and how they can be applied to today. I’ll also be working with members, the two EDA-funded communities of practice SSTI is part of, and advising the new President & CEO as requested. We’ll do this for a year to see how it works for SSTI, the new President & CEO, and me.

Oh, on that exhaustion: I’ll be catching up on sleep as well.

Thank you all for being a reader of the SSTI Weekly Digest. If you value the newsletter and what SSTI does, I’d appreciate it if you’d consider joining these organizations and become an SSTI member.