NC loses an important voice for economic justice, shared prosperity

Image result for Bill schwekeVeteran researcher and advocate Bill Schweke, whose essays regularly graced the virtual pages of NC Policy Watch — even when he was struggling mightily with serious health challenges — passed away last week after a lengthy and courageous battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

The good folks at Prosperity Now (formerly CFED), where Bill long worked, released this tribute over the weekend:

Prosperity Now Mourns the Loss of Bill Schweke: An Architect of Progressive Economic Development in the US

 It is with great sadness and deep admiration that the Board and staff of Prosperity Now report the death of Fenton William Schweke II on July 3, 2018, otherwise known as Bill, after a courageous 18-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. While Bill did not start or name the “Corporation for Enterprise Development”, he was the first employee and credited as a co-founder. He played a singular role in defining and implementing a progressive vision of economic development that is his legacy today.

A proud native Texan, President of his high school Young Republicans, Bill came to Washington in 1979, a newly minted Masters of Public Policy from the University of Texas, to join Lee Webb at the Center for Alternative State and Local Policies, a progressive predecessor of ALEC.  Two years later, he joined Bob Friedman at CFED, bringing his expertise in state and local economic innovation to define a new vision of the field. To accomplish this, Bill designed, researched, and co-edited the groundbreaking book, Expanding the Opportunity to Produce, a robust review of the horizons for economic development policy and practice which is still relevant to this day.

His next step was to launch The Entrepreneurial Economy Review (TEER) to serve as chronicle of cutting-edge practices in the field of economic development – ranging from worker-ownership and sector-based development strategies to innovations in development finance and entrepreneurship.  TEER helped to guide experimentation, connect policymakers and practitioners, and advance innovation at the state and local level.  By the mid-1980’s, Governors and other state policymakers were eager to adopt many of these new ideas and practices, and Bill consulted in Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina to design entrepreneurial economic development policies.

His experience working at the state level informed the publication of Taken for Granted: How Grant-Thornton’s Manufacturing Climate Index Leads States Astray and Bidding for Business, which challenged traditional state economic development policies which sought to lure branch plants of manufacturing firms to low-wage, low-tax, low-union Southern states.  He was a prime architect also of Making the Grade: The Development Report Card for the States, which consolidated the new economic development policies and practices into a framework for understanding and building state economies. The Report Card advocated for policies that focused on making investments in human capital, financial capital, infrastructure, and sound tax policy, all of which advanced broad-based economic well-being as well as home-grown businesses.

Bill was responsible for recruiting Prosperity Now’s third President, Brian Dabson, whom he met while researching international development practices which could be adopted in the US. In the mid-90’s Bill moved to North Carolina with his wife Lucy Gorham and son Nate, where he worked on local development initiatives, tax incentive reform and workforce innovations, while continuing to write and speak about issues and innovations, new and old, until Parkinson’s made that impossible.  Bill was a recipient of the “Defender of Justice” award from the North Carolina Justice Center, and upon his retirement, received the prestigious Order of the Long Leaf Pine from the Governor of North Carolina.

Bill’s work for Prosperity Now was only part of his life. He played guitar and cultivated his library of American music.  He was a voracious reader throughout his life and he and Nate collaborated on a biography of Bill’s father and his heroic military career.  He participated in the Quaker community and was a devoted father and husband.

But for Bill Schweke, Prosperity Now and much of today’s vital economic development field would not exist, certainly in its full form and spirit. Bill will endure as a living expression of the values he held so dearly – economic justice and development, fairness, community, innovation, integrity, inclusion – through all of us.

Bill’s family recommends that contributions to honor his memory can be made to:

The Charles House Association for Community Eldercare, which greatly enriched the last year of his life: online at or via mail to 7511 Sunrise Road, Chapel Hill, NC  27514

The NC Justice Center: online at or via mail to: Attn: Kim-Marie McLellan
PO Box 28068 Raleigh, NC 27611

Prosperity Now at!/donation/checkout or via mail to: Attn: Ana Maria Argudo-Lord 1200 G Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20005

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