As economic development practitioners for the past 15 years, we have watched incentives become more important to the day-to-day work of economic developers.  This is true for communities small and large, rural and urban, with large economic development staffs and with volunteer leadership.  We have developed Smart Incentives because we believe that it is vital for economic development groups to have access to high-quality business intelligence, data and analytical tools in order to make the best decisions for their community.

Ellen D. Harpel, Ph.D.

Ellen D. Harpel, Ph.D.

Ellen Harpel is the founder of Smart Incentives and president of Business Development Advisors LLC (BDA), an economic development and market intelligence consulting firm. 

She has helped many communities evaluate the competitiveness of their incentives offerings. Using the Smart Incentives 4 x 4 framework, she continues to work with communities to implement policies that enable them to achieve their development goals while making smart fiscal and economic decisions. 

Recent projects include competitive analyses of state and local incentive policies, implementation of ROI and other program metrics, and assessments of incentive management and evaluation processes.

Dr. Harpel speaks and writes frequently on incentive policies and programs. Past presentations include:

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 is a member of the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER), the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), Lambda Alpha International, Virginia Economic Developers Association, and the European Association for Research on Services (RESER).

Dr. Harpel earned a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, a Master of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina, and a doctoral degree in regional economics from George Mason University’s School of Public Policy. 


Darrene L. Hackler, Ph.D.

Dr. Hackler is an advisor to Smart Incentives and Business Development Advisors.  Located in Sacramento, CA, she focuses on incentive policy and use on the west coast.  She was the former executive director of research development within the Office of Research at the University of California Davis. She previously served as vice president for research and programs at the International Economic Development Council and was a Senior Fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Dr. Hackler's research focuses on strategic economic development initiatives and programs in areas of innovation; entrepreneurship; broadband; and high-tech, green-tech and clean-tech industries.  Her work provides communities with policy guidance and assessment tools to increase their competitiveness through the development of these strategic assets.  In addition, she provides assistance to communities seeking to integrate sustainability policy and indicators with economic development goals and objectives. 

She is the author of Cities in the Technology Economy (ME Sharpe 2006) and multiple peer-reviewed journal articles. 

Dr. Hackler received her Ph.D. in political science and economics and M.A. in public policy from Claremont Graduate University in California, and a B.A. in political science and economics from the College of Idaho.