Bringing definitions of community back into economic development strategies.

Submitted by Carmen Reis on November 30, 2011 - 7:23am
Could we do more to help entrepreneurs in our communities?

Our current economic development models function on a "build it and they will come" philiosophy. Is this the best or most effective use of our resources? Most days are spent trying to attract the newest manufacturing plant, high tech gaming or social media giant rather than culturing the industry we have.

Consider this...when was the last time an economic development officer called a small business in the community to "chat", to see how things are and how the region can help.  I have heard of anecdotal evidence of this from a few communities, but fostering and culturing our existing businesses is not something we have traditionally been good at. 

In other places around the world, local institutions take the time to visit the companies in their region. In North America our opportunistic and individual way of thinking has led us to believe that individuals need to seek out these services themselves, and that good companies will grow organically through the blood, sweat and tears of its management staff.

Isn't it time to infuse notions of community back into our economic development strategies? Isn't it time that we touched base with our existing businesses and offered to help in whatever way we could to help them grow?  Might this not be a more effective growth strategy than attracting yet another high-tech plant that may or may not survive the decade?

Anyone who has studied entrepreneurs, particularly those who built their entreprises from the ground up, know that entrepreneurs are a resilient lot.  They are proud, work hard, and rarely look for hand-outs.  However, if we could ease their struggle, even a little, and a build a community that cares about the small and mid-sized businesses that exist within its boundaries, how better off would we all be?  Perhaps it is time to re-examine our growth strategies and focus on the local.  Perhaps with some attention, these local companies could become gloabl leaders and make our regions global leaders as well.

Community economic development

There are some promising initiatives in this direction, like BALLE, the business alliance for local living economies, and small business Saturday (in the US) to support and strengthen local economies.  Of course supporting coops and non profit businesses tend to have even greater local benefits, and there are a range of programs and services out there for them.  You can find more ideas and resources on the Canadian Community Economic Development Network's website