Successful community economic development projects don’t happen by accident. Implementing a dynamic community economic development plan requires a dynamic team. You’ll want a team of qualified professionals and community stakeholders, including local officials, economic development organizations, citizens, and non-profits.  You’ll also want a community economic development attorney on your team to help bridge the gap between these varied organizations and professionals.

Why you need a lawyer on your community economic development team

Community economic development lawyers bring a range of valuable knowledge and experience across multiple relevant disciplines. Using the appropriate legal tools, they can promote local community economic development by applying this knowledge to your community’s particular challenges and opportunities. Here are some reasons why you need a lawyer on your community economic development team:

Objective view of your project and what’s effective

A lawyer should not have a vested interest as a proponent or opponent to any specific plan or project, and therefore can provide unbiased analysis and advice.

Experience with local government rules and regulations

Community economic development lawyers understand the techniques local governments can use to support, influence and demand community enhancements by private entities.  Similarly, they are experts in facilitating cooperation among governments and nonprofits.

Tailoring programs to local conditions

What constitutes success in community economic development, and the best strategies for achieving success, will vary from place to place.  It’s easy to just copy and reuse incentive programs and other policies used by other communities. However, these policies weren’t designed with your community’s specific needs in mind and may not be compliant with state laws.

By working with you to understand your community’s needs, your lawyer can tailor incentive policies and procedures to your community’s particular challenges and opportunities. By thinking about the project holistically and monitoring compliance with existing agreements, your lawyer can help you avoid detrimental policy interactions and create an environment for different policies to support each other.

Getting it right the first time around

Another benefit to having a lawyer on your team is getting things right the first time around – so you don’t have to keep making adjustments to your policies to satisfy legal requirements, or worse have to start the process over again from the beginning because you didn’t follow a required timeline. To avoid these kinds of situations, your lawyer will ensure that your policies and procedures are compliant with North Carolina laws, reducing the likelihood of legal challenges being brought against you. Similarly, your lawyer will make sure that your projects are consistent with internal program guidelines and help you keep track of notice requirements, so that your team can keep moving along towards its goal.

Experience with nonprofits

For a nonprofit to be an effective community economic development catalyst, it must first be an effective organization in its own right. This means that its legal housekeeping must be in order. Among other things, your lawyer will make sure that your nonprofit’s bylaws reflect the mission and the realities of its operations and can help it avoid confusion or conflicts of interests. Well-written bylaws and adherence to them can help ensure fairness of board decisions and provide protection against legal challenges. A community economic development lawyer can address all of these issues.

Experience with public-private partnerships

Your lawyer can help you negotiate agreements between public and private parties, whether they are for-profit or non-profit entities, arranging the proper combination of public and private financing for new projects. In addition, your lawyer brings a unique understanding of the relationship between private development and tax-exempt financing to help clients understand their options and obtain the best financing terms for them.  Your lawyer will help your team evaluate the service or benefit the proposed project provides. In doing so, your lawyer will assist your team with analyzing the nature and location of the project, the expectations of the public, and the political climate.

Drafting and negotiating economic development agreements.

Your lawyer can also help you draft and negotiate economic development agreements. Lawyers know who, what, when and how to ask to make sure you’re getting the best deal for your community. For example, your lawyer knows and will help you understand how other communities are handling similar agreements, so that you can get the best deal for your community.  Similarly, your lawyer can identify risks, negotiate mitigation strategies, and will make sure that all of your documents and policies are consistent.


Effective community economic development requires a diverse team of individuals working together to accomplish their goal. Next time you’re tasked with a community economic development project, consider adding a qualified community economic development attorney to your team.


Please see our disclaimer, click here to learn more about our community economic development practice, and contact us at to make Sanford Holshouser a part of  your CED team.