Ellen D. Harpel, Ph.D.

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

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, as well as sustainability policies for economic development and innovation, technology and entrepreneurship across the US.

Ellen D. Harpel, Ph.D.

Ellen founded Business Development Advisors in 1999 to work with economic development leaders at the local, state and national levels to increase business investment and job growth in their communities. She launched Smart Incentives in 2013. 

Prior to founding BDA, Ellen was a manager with the professional services firm Deloitte & Touche, where she advised economic development organizations on business attraction, growth and retention strategies through the Fantus Consulting division. She also served as an Associate with Charles Percy & Associates, an international business advisory firm in Washington, DC. She has also worked with the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Home Builders. Through these experiences Ellen gained a broad knowledge of the economic and market factors that drive growth and development in businesses and communities. 

Ellen 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 is on the board of GMU's Gender and Policy Center. 


PhD Regional Economics, Public Policy | George Mason University

Master of Business Administration | University of North Carolina, KenanFlagler Business School

Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service | Georgetown University

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Business Oregon Strategic Assessment of Incentives

Salem, OR


State of Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission
(with PFM)

Oklahoma City, OK

Pew Charitable Trusts, Reflecting Community Priorities in Economic Development Practices

Washington, DC


Franklin County Economic Development and Planning

Department Economic Development Strategic Plan.

Franklin County, OH


Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Michigan Business Development Program

Effectiveness Study

Lansing, MI


City of Kansas City, Missouri Kansas City Incentives

Study (with CDFA)

Kansas City, MO


Invest Atlanta External Review of Incentives

Atlanta, GA


Economic Development Alliance Competitive

Economic Development Incentives Analysis

Jefferson County, AR


The Pew Charitable Trusts and CREC Business

Incentives Initiative

Washington, DC

Maryland Department of Commerce Economic

Development Incentives and Financing Study (with


Baltimore, MD

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation

Management Review and Recommendations

(with CREC)

Madison, WI


Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development Economic

Development Strategic Plan (with CREC)

Salt Lake City, UT


The 2030 Group Roadmap for the Washington (DC) Region’s

Economic Future

Washington, DC Region


Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission

Advancing Opportunity in Somerset County, PA (with EntreWorks)

Somerset, PA


Montgomery County, MD Comprehensive Economic Strategy (with

TIP Strategies)

Rockville, MD


Stephen S. Fuller Institute, George Mason University

Changing Nature of Work Series: Gig and Independent Work

Arlington, VA

Incentive Training and Workshops


I. Investment Incentives and Sustainable Investments

Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment


II. Intro Incentives Course

Council of Development Finance Agencies


III. Designing and Managing Business Incentive

Compliance Programs

Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness


Darrene L. Hackler, Ph.D.

Darrene is consultant and senior advisor to Smart Incentives.

Darrene brings particular economic development expertise in economic equity and inclusive growth, entrepreneurship, innovation, and sustainability. She assists local and regional government officials, as well as large and small economic development and non-profit organizations with their grassroots efforts, strategic plans, incentives analysis, and technical assistance. She works with a variety of stakeholders, including universities, think

tanks, foundations, governments and funding agencies to build partnerships that can

strengthen local economic development ecosystems.

She has served as an Executive Director at the University of California, Davis’ Office of Research, the Vice President of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), a Senior Fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), and an associate professor at George Mason University.


PhD Political Science and Economics | Claremont Graduate University

Master of Arts in Public Policy | Claremont Graduate University

Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics | College of Idaho


Pew Charitable Trusts

Equitable Economic Development and Community Engagement

Washington, DC

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Economic Development Incentives Analysis for Entrepreneurlal Firms

Kansas City, Missouri

The James Irvine Foundation

Strategic Policy and Grantmaking: Business and Workforce Development

San Francisco, California

Franklin County Economic Development and Planning DepartmentEconomic Development Strategic Plan

Franklin County, Ohio


City of Sacramento

I. Project Prosper: Strategic Stakeholder and Community


II. Project Prosper: Neighborhood Economic and Community

Development Strategy Sacramento Now Economic Action Agenda

Sacramento, California

Greater Sacramento Economic Council Inclusive and Equitable Economic Development Performance Metrics

Sacramento, California

Center of Excellence, Northern California, California Community Colleges and Los Rios District.

Strategic consulting and analysis on projects, industry cluster,

regional workforce, Economic Development Administration CEDS.

Sacramento, California

Arlington County Economic Development and Commission

Economic Sustainability,

Resiliency, Competitiveness, and Innovation Assessment

Arlington County, Virginia


Orange County Business Council Information and Communication

Technology Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy

Orange County, California


Smart Incentives

I. Kansas City Enhanced Enterprise Zones Review

II. Michigan Economic Development Business Incentive Analysis

III. Pine Bluff, Arkansas Downtown Revitalization

Arlington, Virginia