Meet the CEcDs at MCEDC: A Critical Engine to Spur Business Growth

Spotlight on Lynne Stein Benzion and Spiros Balntas, CEcDs

As we continue to make strides in our mission to nurture, expand, and deepen the success and growth potential of businesses across Montgomery County, the expertise and resources our team members deliver remains a top priority. We recently spoke with two of our MCEDC staff, Lynne Stein Benzion, Director of Business Retention and Expansion and Spiros Balntas, Director of Business Recruitment, both of whom are Certified Economic Developers (CEcD), about their careers and passions for what they do, every day.

About the CEcD Designation – What is it?

CEcD stands for ‘Certified Economic Developer.’ Administered by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), this designation is regarded as the ‘gold standard’ of its field. Also known as the ‘CPAs of their industry,’ those with the CEcD designation are seen as having reached the pinnacle of excellence in the economic development field. Those who achieve the certification develop core competencies across a wide range of topics within the scope of economic development, and once certified, they are armed with the tools and experience to enter any type of situation or community (i.e. urban, rural, transitional) to make a positive difference.

Some facts about the CEcD:

  • There are only 1,100 certified individuals worldwide, and 20 within the state of Maryland.
  • The CEcD is a grueling, difficult designation to achieve, requiring at least 5 years of industry practice before being allowed to even take the exam.
  • Comprising 3 sections and an oral component, the pass rate runs at only about 35- 40% and covers a wide range of subject matter, from marketing, real estate, finance, and others.
  • CEcDs are also required to re-certify every 3 years and remain involved in the field consistently, whether as a mentor, conference attendee, speaker, judge, or other capacity as a ‘responsibility to the industry’ and its future.

Lynne and Spiros, what are your thoughts on the CEcD and why was it so important for you to earn this designation?

Lynne: In the Economic Development field, formal education is fairly new, just really becoming prevalent over the past few years. Up until very recently, most colleges and universities didn’t even offer economic development courses. This designation was and is a key way to ‘professionalize’ the field. Also, like me, many of us end up in this industry by accident/happenstance, and the CEcD is a recognized standard that allows others across our field to know that we ‘know our stuff’ and can add value in all sorts of communities and situations. That holds tremendous value to me as a professional who is passionate about what I do.

Spiros: As Lynne mentioned, most people don’t wake up one day knowing they want to be an economic developer. I was very much the same, actually beginning my career in international trade working with consular trade groups and becoming interested when I wanted to make the transition to doing more work for U.S. government organizations. I found the certification program through the IEDC, and jumped at the chance to achieve this as not just a way to deepen my skills and expertise but also to ensure my experience in the field used best practices.

What can you do now as a CEcD that you couldn’t before?

Lynne: One of the most important things I feel that I can do now that I couldn’t before is show how serious I take what we do every day. As a professional, the CEcD designation gives us tremendous credibility among larger companies and site selectors who are familiar with the economic development industry. Above all, it helps to show that MCEDC has true professionals on its team.

Spiros: I have found that the wide range of experience and content I learned throughout the education and certification process in getting my CEcD has given me the flexibility and knowledge to apply my skills to any community and address their economic development needs – whatever they may be. We’re able to enter communities that are confronted with all sorts of difficulties – such as closing of a major organization/employer or a natural disaster such as a hurricane – to come up with a recovery plan to help them rebuild. To me this is immensely powerful and valuable.

Where do you think the CEcD drives the greatest value and holds the largest business potential and why?

Lynne and Spiros: The CEcD drives great value and holds large business potential within a variety of attraction, retention and entrepreneurship activities, including those with a community development component. It drives industry credibility, and networking and partnership potential, with professionals such as realtors often preferring to work with certified individuals to add to their own value propositions.

Also, the CEcD designation we hold helps enable us to educate the community about complex economic development issues, such as business growth and workforce dynamics.

What would you each say is the single biggest benefit your CEcD designation brings to MCEDC as an organization and the Montgomery County region overall?

Lynne: I think it definitely says something that out of only 20 CEcDs in the entire state of Maryland, 2 of them (Spiros and I) are right here on staff at MCEDC. We are proud to be representatives of the professional side of the economic development field, and to continue to boost the credibility of MCEDC and Montgomery County. I chose to come to MCEDC because of the passion the leadership shared in this area, which so closely aligned with my own, as well as my constant drive to be a leader and advocate for our field. I am committed to staying up on latest trends to empower my colleagues and teams to expand their knowledge as well.

Spiros: I completely agree with Lynne. The economic development field is constantly changing and evolving, and as a CEcD, we feel a tremendous responsibility to push the boundaries of our knowledge, skills, and experience on a daily basis, to leverage the power of industry groups, consultants, and experts across the field to deliver the most value and lasting impact to communities at varying stages of need and growth.

Where do you see your efforts to leverage CEcD going in the future? What are some key goals and areas you are focused on?

Lynne: We are very excited to be able to use our training to develop the professional culture here at MCEDC. In addition, geographically, Montgomery County has so much diversity – from the urban centers of Bethesda and Silver Spring to the more rural communities near Olney and north and west. There is such a spectrum of need and goals within each of these communities, and each brings its own culture and character, and that is a tremendous challenge and opportunity that we as CEcDs can’t help but jump at!

Spiros: I am very passionate about training and empowering the next generation of economic development professionals, to encourage those thinking of starting careers in this field to move forward, and to incentivize those who, like Lynne and I, came into it by accident to follow their passions. The diversity of Montgomery County, as Lynn mentioned, is such an exciting opportunity for us, but it also can really test the mettle of a certified expert in this field to navigate the inevitable complexities and challenges that come with it. As a certified CEcD, I run toward these challenges with open arms, excited to tackle the issues and embrace the opportunities to expand our local business community with the support of the public sector and our MCEDC leadership.

For further information on the CEcD designation, please visit IEDC Online.