Economic and community development have seemingly passed motherhood and apple pie as the “American” thing. When was the last time you heard a candidate for public office proclaim his or objection to economic development? But exactly what is economic development? Or community development for that matter?
The term “economic development” was hardly used before World War II, although the concept has been around for centuries. Even though everyone wants it, and even though everyone seems to know what it means, the term “economic development” is still in search of a standard definition. Let us begin with a survey of several contemporary definitions.
A 1984 article in Economic Development Today: A Report to the Profession, by American Economic Development Council stated that economic development was defined as “a . . .process of creating wealth through the mobilization of human, financial,
capital, physical and natural resources to generate marketable goods and services.
A trade publication focusing on site selection said that it is“. . . a process that leads the creation of jobs and viable communities. The process is initiated when a specific enterprise development opportunity seeks a location that can satisfy a set of critical selection criteria. The Economic Developers Association of Alberta, Canada defined it as “. . . the growth process of developing and maintaining suitable economic, social and political environments, in which balance may be realized, increasing the wealth of the community.” The Georgia Economic Developers Association said that it is “. . . a sustainable process of creating economic opportunity for all citizens, stimulating business investment, and diversifying the public revenue.” An academic journal in England defined it as “. . . an increase in real income per head.” Then there is the Lane County, Oregon manual which says that economic development is ““. . . a program, a group of policies, and/or activity that seeks to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community. Ideally, it will create and retain jobs and provide a stable tax base.” In short, economic development is a process.
For purposes of this discussion, and because it is the definition offered in the basic course for Mississippi economic developers, the following definition will be used:
Economic development is the process of creating wealth through the mobilization of human, financial, capital, physical and natural resources to generate marketable goods and services.
In the past, economic development primarily meant recruiting new industry to the community. As the activity has become more professional and diversified, it now includes efforts to assist existing businesses in their expansion efforts and, if necessary, finding ways to keep businesses from leaving the community. Some economic developers today are of the opinion that there is too much emphasis placed on recruiting activities, especially in times of a slower economy.
Economic development is often considered to be a marketing activity. A substantial amount of time and effort is spent on marketing the community to prospective employers. Many economic developers will say that their primary function is “selling the community.”
Community development, on the other hand, is an internal community activity that is, in a sense, preparation for economic development. While economic development is primarily concerned with jobs, community development is concerned with a myriad of development activities such as schools, transportation, government and infrastructure. Some would consider economic development primarily an external effort while community development is mostly an internal activity. In any sense, they each complement each other.
In communities with well-established, successful economic and community development programs there will be organizational capacity development, community development, business development, and workforce development. Organizational capacity development refers to the ability of groups and organizations to work together to meet the economic development needs of the community. Capacity development is about partnering to develop strategies, raise funds, and work in a more efficient manner than if the organizations did things by themselves. Community development is about putting the pieces together to improve the community. Investments might include, but not be limited to, infrastructure, downtown areas, gateways, business parks, speculative buildings and/or public/private partnership opportunities. Business development involves programs that encourage business growth and investment such as business attraction, retention and expansion, tourism, and start-up and emerging businesses. Workforce development is concerned with partnerships between businesses, education and government that build the skills of the local workforce.
In conclusion, in the continuing political campaign world we live in, we can expect to always hear candidates tout their support of economic development, which of course is as American as motherhood and apple pie.
» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com. He’s on the Web at www.philhardwick.com.
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