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Auburn, Alabama, Hosts Officials from Kosovo

Auburn, Alabama, staff host local officials from Kosovo on a study tour showcasing Auburn's successful economic development initiatives.

Through an ICMA CityLinks partnership, the city of Auburn, Alabama, hosted a study tour for local economic development officials from Kosovo.

Although Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, it is still slowly rebuilding after experiencing destruction and loss from the devastating war in the late 1990s. Kosovo seeks to escape its turbulent past of ethnic strife and carefully rebuild its fledgling economy.

ICMA is working with municipal officials in Kosovo to provide local economic development (LED) training and guidance, and a recent study tour to Auburn, Alabama, was a part of this effort. Under the leadership of Phillip Dunlap, Auburn’s Economic Development Director, the city hosted a group of municipal representatives from Kosovo in September.

The visitors, including three mayors, two local economic development directors, an urbanism and planning director, and a director of economy and finance, traveled to the United States in hopes of determining how to improve their own local economies by learning from Auburn’s experience. They were accompanied by one of ICMA’s staff on the USAID-sponsored project that is overseeing the cooperative effort of LED officials in the U.S. and Kosovo.

According to the U.S. State Department, Kosovo’s citizens are the poorest in Europe, with $2,750 as the annual per capita income, while 45 percent of the population remains unemployed. Kosovo’s unresolved international status has negatively affected the economy, making it difficult to attract businesses.

Over the past couple of decades, Auburn has developed and flourished economically, starting with just three industries in the city in 1984 and expanding to fifty-five industries in 2011. Auburn’s inspiring history and rigorous efforts made it an ideal place for the visitors to come and learn about economic development. The study tour was intended to provide insight and constructive information for these Kosovo representatives to take action, boost employment rates, and encourage new businesses to move to Kosovo. In ICMA’s experience, effective local economic development requires the active participation of local governments, which are critical to the expansion and creation of jobs in the private sector. 

The government officials engaged in discussions led by City Manager Charles M. Duggan, Jr., and former City Manager Douglas J. Watson and attended presentations by Auburn’s Public Works, Planning, Information Technology, Finance, and Water Resource Management departments.


The visit included tours to the water treatment plant, the sewage treatment plant, the city’s business incubator, the Auburn Research Park, and several technology parks. The representatives were interested in learning how to improve their own facilities in Kosovo in order to attract more businesses to their communities. Auburn Technology Parks South, North ,and West were all built within the past twenty years. Auburn Technology Park South, for example, was developed in 1994 and houses twelve national and international corporations based in Europe, Asia, and the United States, creating more than 1,200 employment opportunities.

The delegation also visited companies such as Briggs and Stratton Corporation, Nikki America Fuel Systems, Inc., and CV Holdings, LLC, all of which provide support and employment opportunities for the community and in return benefit from the community’s support.

The study tour was part of ICMA’s current work in Kosovo under the Democratic and Effective Municipalities Initiative (DEMI) program. DEMI is a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded project that the Urban Institute and ICMA are implementing together. The purpose of the three-year program is to promote good governance in Kosovo’s municipalities and to support the implementation of decentralization. DEMI is designed to help municipal officials set priorities for service improvements and identify the organizational structure and capacity required to meet certain objectives.

The opportunity to directly listen and engage in discussions with the Auburn officials, as well as physically tour their facilities, provided these visitors with a valuable experience. All nine participants were very pleased with the program, and returned home with fresh ideas on how to achieve local economic development in their communities. In an informal letter expressing his gratitude after the visit, DEMI staff member Nderim Kamberi wrote, “Thank you for everything you did in the organizational level for our crew. Everyone was delighted by the hospitality and [kindness].”

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