Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
As the name of this blog suggests, economic development matters. A lot. It matters in different ways to different constituents. Much too often economic development organizations and even elected leaders make a narrow case for the simultaneously deep and wide impact successful economic development has on their lives. We can and must do better to sustain support for this important work done across the country and in our towns and neighborhoods.
To give you an idea of the different perspectives of economic development progress across your community, let’s start where most of the attention usually resides – the public benefit. Building your economic base and bringing new dollars into your government supports every other program that builds infrastructure, runs the government and provides a safety net for citizens. However, local government units are funded from different revenue streams. Income, property and sales taxes are important to your cities, counties and school districts. A case can and must be made for all of them separately.
The business community is similar, and each constituent benefits from economic development. Larger businesses in your community may benefit narrowly from the success of your local area, but they do benefit from being located in vibrant, successful, safe communities. They can recruit and retain workers easier. Local businesses benefit very directly from new customers and new flows of money coming into the community to maintain and build infrastructure that serves them. Finally, entrepreneurs benefit from new capital flows, new talent in the market, and perhaps proximity and relationships with an expanding private sector.
I’ll end with where we usually fail to make the case. Actual people living, working and striving for success in your communities. The case can be made from an economist’s perspective – the roads and schools funded by an expanding economy serve as a benefit to all. But we must go farther. To the parents of school aged children, not only does a vibrant private sector in your community fund schools, it can lead to great public-private partnerships that bring technology and ultimately direct career opportunities into the academic environment. To those living in communities with very limited resources, new investment can lead to funding of more public safety officers, additional public transit to and from schools and employment, or emergency services in rural communities. These are real, tangible, and in some cases, life-saving services funded by growth. Finally, and most importantly, what might economic development mean to the young kid in one of our towns or neighborhoods? It might mean a company sponsored scholarship, it might mean an internship, or it might simply mean that Mom and Dad have a stable job and health care. At best, it also ignites their imagination that fuels their own dreams to own a business and employ people in the future, and at least, it offers a flame of hope as they see progress and momentum.
As you know by now, I am not only passionate about economic development, but believe that it can have life-altering impacts on your whole community. This week, let’s think about what growth and economic development means to you, how it’s impacted your community and where it is falling short. I hope to hear from many of you.