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Dickinson College Political Science Major Forges Rewarding Career in Economic Development

Hansen Alumni in Action photo

J. Kenetha Laughman Hansen ’83

Former political science major J. Kenetha Laughman Hansen ’83, credits Dickinson’s liberal-arts education with helping her thrive in the dynamic, fast-paced and ever-changing world of economic development.  
 
Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path?

I am extremely proud of my 30-year economic development career with the York County Economic Alliance. The world of economic development is dynamic, fast paced and ever changing. In my economic development role, I am part saleswoman, attorney and accountant. Dickinson’s liberal-arts approach without a doubt provided me with the foundation to thrive in this industry.  

What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?

I frequently pinch myself as I am so very proud to be a Dickinsonian. I still get goose bumps when I return to campus and am reminded of how Dickinson is an artful fusion of balancing tradition and creativity. I think that has very much impacted my overall approach to both my business and personal life

How did you get interested in your work, and what about it excites you most?  
 
In 1989, I discovered this “economic development” opening at the time I was moving back to south-central Pennsylvania. I thought “this job sounds like fun,” and I’ve been in love with this job since day one. Working on expansion and location projects with companies such as Harley-Davidson and Starbucks has been quite impactful to York County, as well as extremely exciting for me personally.  

What does your current work entail?      

My job centers on connecting York County with resources and services that facilitate business start-ups, expansions and relocations. My team and I market and administer an array of economic development services and financing programs. Our loans range from a small loan to a local café to a half billion-dollar bond issuance for a regional hospital and everything in between.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

The most challenging part of my work is managing expectations. Sometimes I have to be the “bad guy” and explain that the business can’t support a loan or that most grants do not fund private businesses, and most days scheduling a meeting with more than two people is wickedly challenging.

What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated?
   
I had the distinct pleasure and honor to work on a large location project involving Starbucks. In the early 1990s, Starbucks launched a search to locate its first roasting and distribution facility east of the Mississippi River. York County threw its hat into the proverbial ring and was successful. The York facility roasts 3 million pounds of coffee per week and is Starbucks’ largest distribution center. It serves the northeast U.S., parts of Canada and Europe.   

If you could have dinner with anyone famous, living or dead, who would it be?    

I would love to pick the business brains of Martha Stewart, Howard Schultz, Richard Branson and Ina Garten—she would make the dinner of course, and it would be amazing! 

You just built a time machine: where and when do you go?   

Without a doubt, back to my Dickinson College years…

If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?

I would place greater emphasis on work and personal life balance—whether it’s hanging with my Airedale terrier or taking a stroll on the beautiful Dickinson campus.

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Published October 31, 2019