Marissa Garnett, AICP — A Planner in Economic Development

Marissa Garnett, AICP

I started off along the traditional planning career path after graduating with my Master's in Planning, working as a Zoning Officer, doing code enforcement, permit review and zoning interpretations. But unintentionally, I have moved into a related but different career path that I think is less well-known but a great option for planners to consider.

I currently work as an Economic Development Specialist for a large city. Planners and economic developers have a fascinating relationship. The two can be at odds: one has to follow ordinances and procedures and the other wants permits approved yesterday, because time is money for businesses. I have been fortunate enough to work with fantastic planners who understand the needs of business owners and developers. In the public sector, economic development is encouraging and facilitating investment for your community. New businesses, new jobs and expanding companies are what we are all about.

Planners, by virtue of our jobs, are great at being detail-oriented but can also see the big picture, and recognize the many factors that will affect a project; this perspective is very much aligned with economic development.

I majored in political science and Spanish, knowing even in high school I would work for government, and I can say with total certainty that two skills in particular that I honed from these studies have been crucial to my success in economic development. The first one is being able to conduct (and enjoy!) research, and the second is having the ability to write well. If you told me that the Census data I learned about my first year of college would be something I would use ten years later at every job I have had, I would not have believed you.

My objective has always been to find a way to help people navigate the processes in government in order to achieve their goals, whether that is building an addition to their home or opening a business. While other staff does more of the higher-level selling, my role involves telling the story in a compelling way with data.

One of the most game-changing things in a person's life is his/her employment, and to play some small role in the employment opportunities available to a community is very motivating.

I have been pleasantly surprised to find a career that involves assisting people, conducting research and using my understanding of planning. I think it is a great career path for other planners to consider.

Education and Career Influences

College & Major: Clark University, Double Major in Spanish and Political Science

Graduate School: Arizona State University, Urban and Environmental Planning

Influences: A planner I worked with at my first job, Jennie Skeadas-Sherry. She has had an amazingly varied planning career, and offered me a lot of advice and encouragement at my first job in particular, but throughout the years as well.

Planning Jobs

First planning job: Zoning Officer for a small city

Other jobs: Worked for a county as an Appraiser, as an Economic Development Research Assistant, and currently as an Economic Development Specialist

Tools and Lessons Learned: Data analysis, particularly demographics and property data, also mapping


American Planning Association, Arizona Association for Economic Development