I Left My Company to Work in Local Government. Here’s Why.

What Washington does is important, but we feel the impact of state and local government every day.
October 30, 2017
A generic city hall
(Shutterstock)
By Dustin McKissen  |  Contributor
Vice president of entrepreneurship and earketing for the St. Charles County (Mo.) Economic Development Council

There weren't many inspiring moments in the 2016 political season, but I witnessed one the day after the November election. At the time, I owned a content marketing company housed in my community's startup incubator. The facility is privately owned, but the incubator's community manager position is funded by my county's economic development council via a grant from the Missouri Technology Corporation, a public-private partnership that supports entrepreneurship and innovation in the state.

Regardless of whom you voted for, the day after the election was rough. Even if your candidate(s) won, it felt a little like waking up the morning after a really bad fight with your spouse. The community manager knew that two of the incubator members sitting near each other had supported opposing candidates. She encouraged them to get to know one another rather than view each other as walking political stereotypes. They quickly became friends and frequent business collaborators.

Watching these two human beings come together despite their political differences was incredibly moving. It was like witnessing a very small corner of the world being stitched back together in a time when it felt like everything binding us together was coming apart. It also reminded me of how important state and local government is.

Of course, a community manager at a startup incubator isn't the most common example of a local-government employee, but the existence of that role shows how innovative and impactful government at that level can be.

It also shows the way state and local government touches our lives in ways that the federal government doesn't. Whether you're a Clinton voter, a Trump voter, a somewhere-in-between voter or a non-voter, it takes a while for policies emanating from the White House or Congress to make a difference in our day-to-day existence. That doesn't mean Washington's decisions and positions aren't important. They are. It just takes a while to feel their impact of those policies on our bank accounts or in our households.

That isn't the case with local and state government. The sidewalks my neighbor wishes his kids could walk on do not exist, because of decisions made by our city council. When my son's bike was stolen by an older kid in our neighborhood, it was local government -- in the form of police officers -- that responded. The teachers working to shape my children into decent human beings who don't steal bikes are local government employees. State employees maintain our highways, protect our wildlife and set our water-quality standards.

If you're toiling away as a local- or state-government employee, none of this is news to you. However, the impact of local and state government was something I started to think a lot about after watching a state-funded employee heal one small political rift in our community. It made me think long and hard about the difference I was and wasn't making in my community.

That thought process was ultimately what led me to step away from my company and join the county economic development organization as vice president of marketing and entrepreneurship. It was a decision some of my entrepreneur peers don't understand, but one I wish more people would make. Further, I wish more people would recognize how many talented people work for less money than they could earn elsewhere simply because they believe that state and local government is a way to directly impact their communities.

My son knows he can count on the police when his bike is stolen. My daughter has a teacher who takes time out of her busy schedule to help her with college scholarship applications. When I was an entrepreneur, I directly benefitted from programs offered by my local economic development council and the state-funded Missouri Technology Corporation. The dysfunction in our federal government is something we can't ignore, but we also shouldn't let that dysfunction color our opinion of local and state government, where talented, dedicated people are working hard to make our communities safer and our economies stronger.