News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Business

October 20, 2013

BUSINESS CENTS: Understanding the impact of economic development

Recent conversations have started me thinking about how well communities really know and understand what economic development is as well as how every resident has a responsibility to assist in fostering it in their county.

Economic development is typically concerted actions of policy makers and communities to promote a standard of living and economic health/vitalization for a specified area. The content of economic development includes but is not limited to: human capital like residents and the workforce; infrastructure such as our roads, rails and highways; social inclusion; health such as hospitals and living centers; safety; literacy in our schools systems and also local higher education institutions, both two- and four-year colleges; and other local initiatives.

Economic development aims to provide a better lifestyle for the residents and businesses of a community and should not be confused with economic growth, which is the rise of Gross Domestic Product.

Now that the official definition and explanation is out of the way, we can concentrate on action items that both residents and businesses can take in order to produce a better and more attractive community to promote a better standard of living and eventually economic growth.

First, let’s focus on residents. I often see communities, both big and small, not taking a vested interest in their own property. It does not matter if a person owns or rents it, people should care about where they live and work. I have listed a few steps that residents in communities can do to help foster a better place to live, raise children and help companies grow and retain their customer base.

1. Community dedication. It is critical for residents to buy into a strategic vision and how it will help them. Individuals are reluctant to participate unless they see an advantage directly related to themselves or their property. For example, why would they care if trash is all over their yard? Why should they mow their grass or work on their home? What is the benefit to them?

2. Support from political offices. What would be an incentive for someone to work? How will the county council, the mayor or city council help them? People like low-hanging fruit. In other words, pick some small tasks and items to illustrate support and change. I do not know of one society that is a “if you build it, they will come” type of society. People need to be encouraged and motivated.

3. Generational. A lot of changes have taken place between each generation. We currently have four professional generations: The traditionalist (65+), the baby boomer, the generation x-er or latch key generation and the generation y or millennial generation. Each generation is motivated differently and through time each generation has a different view on how to commit to communities, what is expected of them and how they need to be engaged for the better of the community.

The second and final focus is on businesses and economic development agencies. These two segments must work together to foster economic development.

• Community leadership should be dedicated and energetic.

• The community should have an active leadership development program for residents and especially business owners.

• A vision and strategic plan should be in place and shared with the community and other leaders.

• A comprehensive plan (10-20 years) should be created and in place as well to compliment the shorter strategic plan.

• A detailed economic development plan to address business retention, expansion and recruitment; commercial, retail and small business development; and tourism and retiree attraction.

• Strategies developed to discuss service and quality of life: education, health services and other amenities like public parks.

By no means is this the answer to how the lack of economic development plagues many communities, but it is surely a start. By initiating the discussions, communities will begin to understand the longterm implications that no action will cause both in infrastructure, growth and retention of residents.

Heather (Penney) Strohm is the regional director for Indiana State University’s Indiana Small Business Development Center.

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