Ellen Harpel

Founder, Smart Incentives

Arlington, VA

Ellen Harpel is the founder of Smart Incentives, which helps communities make sound decisions throughout the economic development incentives process. She is also president of Business Development Advisors, LLC (BDA), an economic development and market intelligence consulting firm.

Launched in 2013, Smart Incentives serves economic development organizations by using data and analysis to make incentives work better for states and communities. Smart Incentives is also at the forefront of efforts to develop better processes for monitoring compliance and evaluating the effectiveness of incentive programs.

Dr. Harpel speaks and writes frequently on incentive policies and programs for national audiences comprising economic developers, elected officials and finance professionals. Recent projects have addressed data management and reporting for evaluations, competitive analyses of state and local incentive policies, and assessments of incentive management and evaluation practices. Dr. Harpel contributed the chapter on “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Investment Incentives” for Rethinking Investment Incentives: Trends and Policy Options (Columbia University Press 2016). She is currently a member of a team preparing a Comprehensive Economic Incentives Analysis for Kansas City, MO.

Dr. Harpel is a Senior Research Fellow with the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness and an affiliate with the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. She serves on the Alexandria Arlington Regional Workforce Council and the Council’s Executive Committee. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, an MBA from the University of North Carolina, and a doctoral degree in regional economics from George Mason University’s School of Public Policy.

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