“Increasing the level of communication and common understanding among key players in the business location and economic development industry – businesses, consultants, economic developers and community officials – can only improve the investment and job creation process.”
“There is a motherlode of experience, knowledge and answers in the heads of experienced economic developers that goes untapped every day.”
After countless projects and conversations with those involved in the business location and economic development “value chain,” these two premises were on the mind of noted consultant Robert Pittman in 2009 as he pondered how best to give back to an industry that had provided him with a rewarding 30+ year career and many, many friends.
As Robert puts it: “As I sat one day on my porch overlooking Lake Rabun in the Northeast Georgia mountains, an idea hit me – why not invite a few good friends and clients to join me in this beautiful, relaxed setting for a free-flowing discussion about key trends and issues in economic development that were most impacting them and their communities. No prepared agenda, just sharing ideas, good food and fellowship.” That August in 2009 fifteen leading economic development professionals from large and small communities around the country held the first Janus Forum for Economic Development in Rabun County, Georgia, literally on the Pittmans’ porch.
“It was magic,” Robert recalls. “There was more peer learning, networking and bonding over those three days than I had seen at professional gatherings many times larger. Small and large communities and state directors learned from each other, young and ‘experienced’ professionals learned from each other, and the catalyst was focused but open discussion in a relaxed setting away from the office. Working with community leaders, economic development training and education, changes in the site selection process and many other topics were discussed and everyone left feeling enlightened and energized.”
The next year, another fifteen economic developers were invited, but most of the participants from the previous year wanted to come back, so the Forum grew to almost 30. “We realized we were really on to something, but we had to limit the number of attendees to keep the magic,” states Robert. Since then attendance has been limited to 40 invited participants, but more Forums have been held in Northeast Georgia and Florida, and more are planned for other locations.
Special guests – site consultants, corporate executives, elected officials and subject experts – have been invited to participate over the past few years for a true mix of industry professionals. “The invited guests have enjoyed the Forum as much as the economic developers. They tell us how much they learn about the issues and concerns of other professionals in the field, and how this helps them in their work. Of course, the economic developers benefit tremendously through learning from and getting to know the consultants and executives on a personal basis over the three to four days of the Forum,” Robert explains. Today, the Janus Forum is known nation-wide as a premier learning and networking event in the business location and economic development industry.
The Janus Institute, a Georgia non-profit corporation, is the administrative home of the Janus Forum and is housed at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia just a few miles away from the home of Robert and Anita Pittman where the Forum began. In addition to the Janus Forum, the Institute sponsors special events and educational programs in community and economic development, and upon request provides consulting and other support services to communities and regions.
“We feel fortunate to have found a unique niche and we look forward to continuing to help industry professionals become more productive and their communities advance. Our thanks to Piedmont College and all our sponsors and supporters for sharing our vision of the Janus Forum and Institute as places where best practices are created as well as shared.”