Abstract: The Business History of Economic Development: Economic Development Agencies and the Entrepreneurial Ethos in Modern Government

Jeffrey Manuel


This paper relates the history of a regional economic development agency and explores the role of such agencies in linking private enterprise to local and state governments. Economic development agencies have proliferated at the local, state, national, and international levels in recent decades, yet historians know relatively little about these agencies and their connection to broader historical themes. This paper uses a case study of one economic development agency to offer a fine-grained business history of economic development policy. The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board [IRRRB] was a development agency established by the state of Minnesota in the 1940s to assist northeast Minnesota's beleaguered iron mining region. Although the IRRRB was imagined as a statist, public welfare planning agency, by the 1980s and 1990s the IRRRB shifted to emphasize a pro-business development model that encouraged entrepreneurship in the region and within the agency. The IRRRB thus mirrored the late twentieth-century shift in many government agencies toward an ethos that valorized entrepreneurship and practices that attempted to make government more like a business. The primary research for this paper comes from official IRRRB records.