A growing literature has examined the changing nature of urban political leadership in an era of economic globalization and increased pressures for fiscal austerity on governments. Based mostly on the experiences of the United States and Europe, this literature has emphasized the imperative of urban leaders to become increasingly entrepreneurial — to foster collaboration with private sector actors, to mobilize new sources of financing for urban development, and to develop innovative strategies for economic growth. This article examines this question in the very different context of the Extended Bangkok Metropolitan Region (EBMR) in Thailand. It argues that, in the context of rapidly urbanizing regions in Southeast Asia, these changes have in many contexts led to the emergence of businessmen‐cum‐politicians who exert both economic and political dominance in localities. Such figures have emerged as intermediaries in the process of industrialization and urbanization between national governments and people in localities, and play an important role in mobilizing land, labor and capital at the local level, and in fostering a political base for national economic development policy. The article illustrates this phenomenon with a case study from Chonburi, a rapidly industrializing province on the fringe of the EBMR.