Wilhite's previous experience include serving as an economic development executive with Kentucky Utilities, director of economic development for the Winchester-Clark County Industrial Development Authority and director of the Office of Economic Development for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
"It's important for me to be here at your invitation to talk to you about economic development, and particularly the community's role in it," Wilhite said.
"I want to assure you how important that local role is in the development process. ... It's what takes place in the community that's really essential to the process."
Wilhite said there were six things that he has seen communities do to aid in the economic development process.
"There are lots of things a Chamber of Commerce can do to help get its community prepared and moving forward," he said.
He said he was very impressed with the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce due to the many services it provides to the community and local businesses.
Wilhite said the first strategy to improve economic development is to continually develop new leaders.
"I think one of the essential roles of the chamber of commerce is to help prepare leadership," he said.
He said it is very important to not only train adults for the roles, but to get the youth involved early in their lives.
The second strategy Wilhite suggested was to celebrate small successes just as if it were a major one.
"If I said economic development, I would say a good many of you in this room would immediately visualize that big groundbreaking ceremony where someone is going to build a humongous building out in a big open field. ... We have to get past the point of thinking that everything has to be Toyota-sized when it comes to economic development," he said.
Wilhite said it is important to listen to local businesses. He said it's very rare for organizations to really pay attention to how well local businesses are performing, and with the recent economic decline, a lot of businesses have been forced to shut down because no one took the time to really pay attention to that business' needs.
The fourth suggestion made by Wilhite was that communities should take advantage of a program called "First Impressions." The program brings outsiders into a town and invites the visitors to take pictures of anything positive or negative that grabs their attention. The visitors then present a visual report on what areas of the community should be promoted and what areas need to be improved.
Wilhite said communities also need to develop partnerships with other communities and organizations to promote their combined interests. He said a community or state may not be well-known, but if it partners with other groups with similar interests, they can work together to raise the status of all the parties.
"The sixth thing I want to talk about may sound contradictory to the last. ... The sixth strategy I'd like for you think about is, even though you're not alone, work and plan like you are alone," Wilhite said.
"I think there's a need for communities to understand that they have to drive this process."
Wilhite said communities need to understand that they cannot wait for other entities to come in and save them. They have to save themselves.