Economic Development and Civic Tech — Lucas Lindsey
My Career Helping Entrepreneurs Through Economic Development
I am the Executive Director at Domi Station, a startup incubator and coworking space that’s on mission to grow and diversify the North Florida economy. In planning school, I focused on economic development and trends in civic tech, which exposed me to the wild world of startups.
A lot of people ask me how a planning education led to running an entrepreneurship support organization. The similarities may not be obvious to everyone, but to me they couldn’t be more clear.
Entrepreneurs are problem solvers with a bias toward action. The best city builders are the same way. They observe problems, diagnose root causes, and take iterative steps toward a solution.
Admittedly, most of what I do I learned on the job and by surrounding myself with strong mentors. My planning degree did not cover things like business systems, board/staff management, or fundraising, but it did expose me to some of the more fundamental forces behind community and economic development. It inspired me to always consider the future, understand my city at a macro level, and be an advocate for change.
Is your career based on considered choices you planned or has it unfolded as part of a process you didn’t necessarily foresee?
The organization I now run didn’t exist while I was in grad school, so I never saw this coming. The opportunity to do something new and dynamic grew out of me leaving the classroom, attending startup community events, and meeting as many people as I could. I leveraged my Master's capstone, turning it into a way to sit with and interview a variety of Tallahassee business leaders. Never underestimate people’s interest in getting together to talk about themselves for an hour.
What skills and personality traits lend themselves to success in your field?
Since business relies on relationships, empathy is central to getting things done. I’ve learned to listen more than I talk in order to learn about other people, about their needs, about their motivations. I often use a conference call software that tracks total minutes talked by attendee, and I consider it a failure when I’ve talked the most! To be a social entrepreneur and community organizer, you also need a fair bit of optimism and belief in how things could be different in the future.
What has been the best surprise in your career?
Hands down the most rewarding surprise has been meeting other community builders from across the country. Through rising organizations like the Startup Champions Network, I was able to find a tribe of people working to solve similar economic problems in their home city. It fires me up to surrounded by people that believe in the same things. Their commitment to writing a new narrative for their community challenges me to do more and to do better.
Looking back, what might you do differently?
One thing I wish we had covered more in planning school (and one thing I recommend all aspiring planners expose themselves to) is real estate finance. Understanding the numbers, both costs and revenues, behind urban development does a lot of things all at once. It raises awareness of market influencing trends, buys credibility with developers, and might just tempt someone to bring their own neighborhood development project to life. We need more neighborhood scale developers working with a planning education and from a planner’s community-oriented perspective.
What do you enjoy most? What is the least enjoyable about your current role?
The fast paced, dynamic environment of a startup space never gets old. When I walk in the door there is an energy of action, optimism, and get-things-done. It is incredibly rewarding to empower others as they use entrepreneurship to change the course of their lives. Seeing that play out, and seeing our members’ ideas impact the market — wouldn’t trade that for anything. It comes at a cost, though. The least enjoyable aspect is the high amount of stress associated with finding and sustaining revenue. Expenses add up fast, and the beat of payroll never stops.
What advice do you have for someone who hopes to find a job similar to yours?
Always provide value first. Find ways to give better you get, and make an effort to build genuine relationships built on shared goals and common interests. A lot of what I do comes down to being a broker of relationships, so reputation and rapport matter quite a bit. Try to think of strategic ways people and organizations can work together, and drive connections that help make that happen.
How does your perspective as a member of the millennial generation affect your perception of planning?
Look, the internet and I grew up together. Every other year it felt like it doubled in speed and impact, toppling industries and creating entirely new ways to communicate, collect data, and even move through and experience cities. At the same time, infrastructure and neighborhood development puttered along at the same slow pace. So I share the impatience of a generation that wants to see action, not hear ideas.
Schools and Education:
I attended high school in New Mexico, graduating from the beautiful mountain village of Ruidoso. College took me to Arizona State University, where I received my BS in Planning, and then, after working for a year and getting a true 9-5 education, I took the I-10 east to pursue a Master's in Planning at Florida State University.
First planning job:
My first exposure to urban planning was as the Village of Ruidoso’s first (and only as far as I’m aware) Planning and Zoning intern. Among other riveting tasks, I organized decades of files, which were haphazardly stored in city hall’s dusty attic, reviewed historic map amendments against the current zoning map (unfortunately, some had never made it onto the official map), went around town with the building inspector red tagging unpermitted work, and transcribed P&Z Commission recordings. It was nuts and bolts stuff, and I had a summer I’ll never forget.
My work is dominated by Google’s business suite, social media, and QuickBooks. For up-and-coming planners, I recommend doing anything and everything in your power to practice writing. The ability to clearly and effectively communicate is an invaluable tool that will never go out of style.
What do you do outside of work that helps you be successful?
Outside of work, I am active in urban development, which keeps me engaged in local issues and aware of projects throughout town. I serve as a Planning Commissioner and am involved in an urban infill/redevelopment project just south of Tallahassee’s downtown. Through this work, I remain connected to my interests and education in urban planning.