Don Erwin, author of the captivating Buffalo Hunting in Alabama: A Novel, is no stranger to the world of economic development organizations. He has worked for the Alabama Power Company, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, and Barber Companies. Over two decades, he attracted key businesses to Alabama and boosted its economy. Since his novel’s publication in October 2020, Don has remained active in the EDO community. Last month, he sat down with us to discuss his love for the profession and why he undertook this challenge.
Drawing Upon Experience
When Don got the idea to write a novel centered around economic development, he knew it had to be realistic, but still engaging. “I’ve written almost all my life in a business sense, but writing a book is a different undertaking,” Don acknowledged. So, he drew upon his past work experiences (most notably, his role in attracting Mercedes Benz to open its first US auto facility in Alabama) and took copious notes to streamline the writing process. Don also understood that in the world of EDOs, “…so many decisions are made, and relationships are built, at the dinner table.” So he made sure to make these “battlegrounds” a focal point of the novel – and an entertaining one at that. With the structure in place, he now had the perfect idea for a compelling story.
A Desire to Tell the Story
Don’s main reason for writing the novel was to give economic development a proper story. “It’s an exciting business,” he explained. He also wanted to highlight the nobility of the field. The book presents the good economic development professionals are doing for communities. Though some economic developers travel state to state, most settle into one community and work to improve it. Those local developers are what he considers “…the heart of development and growth… people with their feet on the ground and out in the community help get the projects attention and up and running.” More than anything, he wanted those who read the book to take inspiration from the stories told to help make an impact with their EDO. He won’t have to wait long either. Buffalo Hunting in Alabama is featured as required reading for advanced eco-dev courses offered at University of Southern Mississippi, ASU, and other colleges.
Advice to EDOs
To Don, one of the key purposes of EDOs is changing the mindset of community leaders. They must understand the benefits of economic development. “Political leadership has a responsibility in eco-dev, just like they have a responsibility in everything else they do,” he said. To that end, successful negotiations and leveraging of crucial incentives is necessary. He feels that tax incentives are one of the best tools to utilize and can cover many bases.
He also suggests that EDOs know whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of each plan they propose, and how to promote the good it will do for their communities. Economic developers do so much for their communities and create jobs for potentially tens of thousands of people, so publicity is always key! As for the novel, it is a wild ride of intrigue, competition, positioning, and successes that you won’t soon forget.
And here’s the best news… at the end of the interview, Don let the cat out of the bag. A sequel to Buffalo Hunting in Alabama is in development and will come out soon – so stay tuned for more adventure!