11.438 | Spring 2020 | Graduate

Economic Development Planning


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this class.

Course Description

Local and state governments have a number of tools at their disposal if they choose to proactively attract, retain, and plan for sustainable economic development. Starting with an exploration of why we plan for economic development, then moving into an overview of how government is funded in the United States, this class will focus on the strategies that are commonly used to attract and retain development, and how effective they are at accomplishing goals. Each student will also be able to choose a case study to explore in depth and present to the class. The class will look at these tools and techniques through a variety of lenses, including effectiveness, equity, sustainability, and the impacts on other aspects of public finance. At the end of the class, students will understand common practices for economic development and how to calculate their effectiveness through a holistic, as well as strictly financial, lens.

This class will be structured into four units to look at local economic development planning from a few different perspectives:

  • LENSES: How do you look at economic development? In other words, why do it? We will look at perspectives from the minimalist (Jane Jacobs) to the functionalist (Alex Marshall) to social justice and equity-focused.
  • TOOLS: What alternatives do local governments have to plan for economic development? In other words, what are your options? We will look at local government finances, including annual budgeting and capital planning. Once we know how local government pays the bills, we will look at the tools at their disposal and how they pay for them.
  • STRATEGIES: What are some general approaches to looking at economic development? In other words, how do you take your tools and lenses and combine them into action? We will look at approaches including business attraction, business retention and expansion, the Buy Local movement, and workforce development.
  • CASES: The last section of the class will look at case studies of economic development planning in the Boston region, New England, and beyond. These studies will help make the lenses, tools and strategies real and provide inspiration for your future work.


There is one assigned text:

  •  Beer, Andrew, and Terry L. Clower. Globalization, Planning and Local Economic Development (Routledge, 2020). ISBN: 978113881031.

There are other books that are not fully assigned but may be worth owning if you can get them easily:

  •  Jacobs, Jane. The Economy of Cities (Vintage, 2016). ISBN: 9780394705842. 
  •  Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited (Basic Books, 2012). ISBN: 9780465042487. 
  •  Florida, Richard. The New Urban Crisis (Basic Books, 2017). ISBN: 9781541644120. 
  •  Marshall, Alex. The Surprising Design of Market Economies (University of Texas Press, 2012). ISBN: 9780292756755.

Other readings are listed on the Readings page.

For legal cases assigned, note that you don’t need to memorize everything. Just read through the case and try to understand the salient points raised and the case law set by the ruling. Feel free to look at summaries of the implications of the case once you have the basic facts down.

For public sector applications, decisions, or plans, you should also not memorize every detail. I want you to understand how these things are applied in practice through real-world cases.

Requirements and Grading

The course will be graded as follows:

  • In-class participation (15%). This is a lecture and discussion course with student projects. Students should be well prepared to participate actively in class discussions and contribute actively to the work of the team.
  • Short Assignments (20%). Blaise Pascal once famously said “I would have written less but I ran out of time.” These assignments will focus on complex issues and ask students to outline their findings and recommendations in two professional memoranda on a topic of one page! The responses will be graded on a ✓+, ✓, ✓- scale. You will also be asked to keep an eye on publications and research in the field, both in theory and practice, and pick five articles over the course of the semester to share with the class. Each week we will start the class asking a few students to share their article and explain why it was interesting to them.
  • Midterm Paper (25%). Each student will write a more academic 10-page paper on one topic related to either a LENS or a TOOL and exploring it in more detail, with at least one case study.
  • End of Semester Project (30%). Each student will choose a topic and case study on economic development planning, and prepare a 15–20 page paper examining the tool, the case study, and the effectiveness of the effort. This project will require direct contact with the community in question to gather information and data, and cannot be done simply through on-line and academic research.
  • Final Presentation (10%). In the final weeks of the semester, students will present their case study to the rest of the class and respond to questions.

Grading Rubric

The following grading rubric will be applied to evaluate submissions:

  1. Does it answer the question or fulfill the requested deliverable? (40%)
    1. Does it have a clear thesis that is responsive to the question?
    2. Does it support this thesis with appropriate evidence?
  2. Does it incorporate concepts and methodologies from assigned readings, class discussions, and community engagement? (30%)
    1. Does it interpret and apply the readings accurately?
    2. Does it respond to the information gathered in community engagement?
  3. Does it present a compelling, well-structured argument? (30%)
    1. Does it have a logical structure that supports the development of the thesis?
    2. Does it engage with alternative viewpoints, counter-arguments and acknowledge weaknesses?
    3. Is it well supported by qualitative and quantitative data?

Grading Scale

Grades are assigned using the following scale:

Numerical Grade Letter Grade
96–100 A
91–95 A-
86–90 B+
81–85 B
76–80 B-
71–75 C+
66–70 C
61–65 C-
56–60 D+

Late Submissions

In the event that medical or other personal circumstances arise that interfere with your ability to complete assignments on time, extension requests can be made to the Office of the Dean of Graduate Education (ODGE). If ODGE decides that an extension is warranted, they will send a generic note that your assignment deadline should be extended without penalty. This policy is intended to preserve your privacy.

Any assignment submitted after the deadline, without a request for an extension that was approved by ODGE, will be marked down 5 points out of 100. Any assignment more than 3 hours late will be marked down a further 10 points. A further 10 points will be deducted for each day the assignment is late.

Writing Help

The MIT Writing and Communication Center (WCC) offers free one-on-one professional advice from communication experts. The WCC is staffed completely by MIT lecturers. All have advanced degrees. All are experienced college classroom teachers of communication. All are published scholars and writers. WCC lecturers have a combined 130 years’ worth of teaching here at MIT (ranging from 1 to 26 years).

The WCC works with undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs, faculty, staff, alumni, and spouses. The WCC helps everyone strategize about all types of academic and professional writing as well as oral presentations and slide design.

No matter what department or discipline you are in, the WCC helps you think your way more deeply into your topic, and helps you see new implications in your data, research, and ideas. The WCC also helps with non-native speaker issues, from writing and grammar to pronunciation and conversation practice. [Note: Service only available to members of the MIT community.]

Academic Integrity

Fundamental to the academic work you do at MIT is an expectation that you will make choices that reflect integrity and responsible behavior. Honesty is the foundation of good academic work. Do trust the value of your own intellect and credit others for their work. Do not copy ideas or phrases without citing them appropriately. Do not submit projects or papers that have been written for a previous class. See https://integrity.mit.edu/.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2020
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments with Examples
Instructor Insights