So often my travels leave me weaving down desolate country roads that are sparsely populated and towns blighted with empty, dusty store fronts.\ Signs that at one time proudly said "Open" dangled by a single chain and pleading for its life, for any low-rent tenant that might re-inhabit, for even a brief moment, to breathe a fresh breath of life back into Main Street. 

Communities throughout Indiana recognize a few common themes: regionalism and quality of life. Although many challenges still exist, the fact that communities are now beginning to bond and work together speaks volumes that hope does in fact exist.

Some county economic development corporations are working with local programs to identify second stage companies for economic gardening. According to the Edward Lowe Foundation, "economic gardening takes an entrepreneurial approach to regional prosperity. Often referred to as a "grow from within" strategy, it helps existing companies within a community grow larger.

In contrast to traditional business assistance, economic gardening focuses on strategic growth challenges, such as developing new markets, refining business models and gaining access to competitive intelligence. Economic gardening specialists help CEOs identify which issues are hindering their growth and then leverage sophisticated tools to deliver insights and information that CEOs can apply immediately.

Other county economic development corporations realize they need to partner with universities to help with stage 1 & 2 companies on business retention and expansion strategies. They EDC's have consumed their time chasing larger companies and corporations and not fostered the stage 1 and stage 2 companies that primed for growth. This is a great chance for the EDC and the university to partner to help those companies to grow. A win-win for everyone involved, especially the community as jobs and revenue are added locally.

Another aspect that I have the opportunity to witness is helping communities identify creative ways to foster entrepreneurism. One community in southern Indiana is exploring whether an incubator might be the right fit for them. That question hasn't been answered yet. but the fact that they asked it is a step in the right direction.

Regardless of the direction of a community and which objective they have selected, each community has realized they can't do all the heavy lifting by themselves and that is why it is critical to have local partners and stakeholders at the table. I have seen agricultural representatives, lenders, the ISBDC, SCORE, higher education from every corner and part of the state working toward a common goal. The collaboration and cohesive bonding means that in time and with proper moment, communities will move mountains.

When you think about where you live and how to change things, realize that it is taking a risk that often gets people to react and get things done.

Heather Strohm is community development regional educator for the Southwest Region of Purdue University Extension. She can be reached at strohmh@purdue.edu

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