February 17, 2020

“I saw my hometown burning that day.”
-Rodney King

Everyone is from somewhere. They have a place they call home – a small town, a city, or a neighborhood. Most people are proud of that place, whatever its characteristics. However, the world might see it as an out of the way place, a city that has seen better days, or a tough neighborhood.

If you question whether economic development is a powerful force, ask someone where they are from and what people do there. They will likely respond with the name of a nearby employer or reference an industry prevalent in the area. They may refer to a former employer that has since departed or been shut down. In the best case, they may say that “things are good” because of a new employer or development. Employers are that important. They don’t just represent a place of employment and a form of tax base, but become part of the culture.

A simple measure of economic development success is how citizens in your area refer to their hometown. Are they proud of their community? What employers or industry do they refer to when asked what people do? Do they describe it as a place with a future or a place whose time has passed?

We all want to be proud of our hometowns, refer to thriving industries, and invite others – to visit, to move, to join in the community – because they see a future there for themselves and their families.

Not every place thrives in the same way. However, every place has people who care, who are willing to stick with it to make it better. And as leaders, we should be committed to making people not just prideful, but optimistic about their hometown.

-Kenny McDonald