by Patty Gelb
After an incredibly impressive career in the field of education spanning over 50 years, you would think that Dr. Dan Johnson, president emeritus of The University of Toledo would be slowing down. But, that is not the case at all.
Following his time at UT, Johnson moved to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates as provost and chief operating officer of Zayed University for over three years. Upon his return from the Middle East he became very active in the Toledo community and serves on a variety of boards and advisory councils.
His latest project is promoting his recently published book that supports and empowers civic and community leaders on the important issues that help grow their communities.
“Leading Economic Development: A Toolkit for Public Officials and Civic Leaders,” is a guide that teaches the language and strategies of economic development. This book was written to enable readers to get up to speed quickly on these concepts rather than having to learn about these important issues over many years on the job.
“I have worked with public officials, civic leaders and economic development practitioners for many years — actually decades,” Johnson said. “It became quite evident that many knew very little about economic development, methods, strategies, processes, terminology…”
Economic development is probably most simply defined as efforts that work toward advancing the economic well-being and quality of life for a community. There are a lot of elements that go into economic development for any community, such as workforce development, creating jobs, infrastructure, business retention and attraction and community growth. Newly elected community leaders and often corporate board members are the people making decisions on these very important topics for a region.
“Following our arrival in Toledo I was invited to join several boards,” Johnson said. “Two of the boards were of organizations devoted to economic growth and development. The members of these boards — as is true with boards generally — were professional people, business people, and others, many of whom had little or no background experience or knowledge of economic development. It seemed to me at the time that all of us as board members would have been better prepared for these important roles if we had some knowledge of even the most basic and fundamental concepts in economic development.”
Johnson had many years of experience on this topic. He served as 15th president of UT from 2001 to 2006. During that time, he developed strong ties with the metropolitan region, laid the foundation for the UT Science and Technology Corridor, and, along with Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, initiated the successful merger between the University and the Medical University of Ohio to create the third largest university in the state. In 2006, Johnson was named president emeritus and distinguished professor of public policy and economic development. Prior to UT he worked with public officials on economic development-related projects for more than 40 years in Illinois, Virginia, Texas, and Alaska.
“It is really the cumulative effect of these experiences over the years that led me to write the book,” he said.
Johnson’s book is an effective primer for new leaders and entry-level professionals who work within the field of economic development for their communities. Drawing on his experience in the field and extensive research and study on the topics that are covered in the book, Johnson shares these complex topics in a way that will benefit the beginner, as well as the expert professional.
There are several themes that Johnson focuses on throughout the book that he hopes will influence readers; the importance and power of collaboration, understanding the global marketplace and globalization, the centrality of education as a critical factor in economic development, recognition and importance of trust and ethical standards, as well as bold, informed, knowledge-based leadership.
“If these themes come through and influence the readers in a positive manner the book will have achieved its purpose,” he said.
The foreword to the book was written by Lee Fisher, former Lt. Governor of Ohio. Fisher, who also has an extensive background in the field of economic development, currently holds the position of president and CEO of CEOs for Cities. Previously, Fisher had over 18 years of public service in a variety of offices including director of the Ohio Department of Development, Ohio attorney general, state senator, and state representative.
In the book’s foreword Fisher writes, “Dan Johnson’s thoughtful and insightful guide for public officials and civic leaders is a roadmap and toolkit for economic development and success. He starts with the big picture and then outlines the necessary steps to frame your opportunities and challenges, act in ways that demonstrate measurable progress and connect and engage with the smartest people and the smartest ideas in the most ways.”
Johnson’s book was published by The University of Toledo Press. Barbara Floyd, the director of the UT Press helped guide the process. Johnson recognizes her in the acknowledgements of the book for help in bringing this manuscript to completion.
“Dr. Johnson’s book is unique in that it brings together the best research in the field of economic development, but presents it in a way that is useful to the novice,” Floyd shared. “It was a privilege to work with him on the book, and to have a chance to know more about the work he has been pursuing since he left the position of UT’s president.”
Johnson has not lived the life of quiet retirement. He remains actively involved on campus and heavily involved in the Toledo area.
He is married to Elaine Clark Johnson and they currently live in the Bowling Green, Ohio area. Together they have two adult children, Brent and Darin and four grandchildren.
Johnson currently sits on over ten boards including Hospice of Northwest Ohio, SkyLife Company, Toledo-Lucas County Library Legacy Board, Lourdes University, Alliance for Paired Donations, and several UT advisory boards and committees. Over the years he has written seven books including his last work, “Toledo Vision: Personal Reflections on Strategies, Best Practices and Bold Initiatives,” which was published in 2011 with the foreword by former Toledo Mayor and UT alumnus Mike Bell.
Although Johnson is uncertain as to whether he will undertake another book, he has gathered information and created outlines on how he sees the future of organizations in the world of increasingly sophisticated technologies, growing populations, changing nature of communications and growing concerns about security. But, right now he is focused on his current work.
“My hope for this book is that it will help enable and empower public officials and civic leaders to take a more knowledge-based, informed approach to local and regional economic development,” Johnson said.
Dr. Johnson will discuss his book on Wednesday, September 16, at 7 p.m. in McMaster Auditorium at the downtown Toledo-Lucas County Public Library as part of the library’s “Open Book” series. He will be interviewed by Tom Walton, commentator on WGTE FM91 and retired editor and vice president of the Toledo Blade. The talk will be followed by a reception and book signing. The event is free and open to the public.
To purchase a copy of Leading Economic Development: A Toolkit for Public Officials and Civic Leaders, click here.
To read a review of the book that was published in Economic Development Quarterly in May, 2015, click here.
In March of this year, the Urban Affairs Center and the University of Toledo Press co-sponsored a symposium entitled “Leading Economic Development: A Seminar for Local Public Officials and Civic Leaders” where Dr. Johnson and Lee Fisher were keynote speakers. This event was attended by over 60 people working in the area of economic development from across the northwest Ohio region. To view this symposium in its entirety, click here.