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  • 5/21/2019

    What Economic Development and Landscaping Have in Common

    What Economic Development and Landscaping Have in Common
     
    Explaining what I do as an economic developer or why my community even has an economic development department is something I have been asked about many times during my career. As a seasoned economic development professional and now as a coach, speaker and economic and community development trainer, it is my responsibility to help residents of my community understand how a strong economic development program serves their needs and desires for the place they call home.
     
    First, it’s important to understand why these questions arise. Often it is because a segment of the population fears change. They like the community the way it is and don’t want to face the uncertainty of future growth. They assume that if the community halts its economic development efforts, they will be able to stop growth or change. 
     
    Like It or Not, Change Is Inevitable
    The problem is, the world doesn’t work that way. Here’s an analogy I like to use to help illustrate the need for economic development: Let’s say you move into a new home on a bare lot. Even if you happen to like the unfinished look of raw dirt and you choose to do nothing — plant no grass, landscaping or trees — you will still end up with something in your yard. The wind will blow, nature will take over and before long there will be all sorts of things growing in your dirt. There will be no rhyme or reason to its arrangement. It may or may not be attractive. It might or might not be beneficial to the overall environment. But make no mistake, you will end up with something, and you will have had no say in it.
     
    A community is the same way. If you do nothing, you are still going to end up with change of some sort. It might be growth that you don’t like or want. It could result in the shrinking of your community. Over time, doing nothing still leads to change, but the problem is that you don’t know what direction that change is going to take over the long term.
     
    You Need More Than a Plan
    Now, back to the bare yard analogy: Imagine that your next-door neighbor builds a new home and decides to hire a professional landscape architect to design his yard. Through meetings and productive discussion, a desirable design is created, supported by a plan that can be acted upon in a timely manner to achieve their desired result. How will your yard look next to theirs?
     
    In a community, the citizens are the homeowners and the elected officials are the landscape architects. By working with the residents to create a plan for what the community is going to look like in the future, the elected officials can begin to make decisions on how to invest the available resources. 
     
    Now, just because you have a plan doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to have a great-looking yard. Once you have the plan, you must now decide how best to implement it. You can attempt to do it yourself, making trips to the garden center on the weekends and planting the various plants outlined in the plan. While this seems, on the surface, like an obvious way to save money, bypassing the professional can come at a high cost over time.
     
    Another option is to engage a professional landscaper to execute the plan. This, of course, carries a financial cost but saves a great deal of time and effort and is likely to produce the best results. The amount of work performed by the professional is directly related to the homeowner’s ability to invest in the services. 
     
    In the same way, a community can decide to engage the use of an economic development professional who can help lead the implementation of the economic development plan. The role of the economic developer is to take the vision of the community and bring it into reality. 
     
    Plant with Purpose, Reap the Rewards
    The success of a community’s economic development depends not only on the professional but on the community members as well. Especially in smaller communities, the economic developer is leading a team of passionate volunteers who are all working together to plant the seeds of future economic prosperity. 
     
    Another thing to consider is the ability of the community to focus on a set plan. Using the landscape analogy, if you decide to redesign the entire yard after you have let nature take its course, it will be costly because what has begun growing willy-nilly must be uprooted to prepare the ground for the new design.
     
    It’s important that long-range strategic planning is applied and updated regularly to ensure that resources are invested wisely and not squandered. Given that there is a finite amount of available resources, reducing the funds wasted by ever-changing goals and priorities is paramount.
     
    Economic development, then, is all about professional planning and execution to prevent out-of-control, undesirable change and foster healthy, desirable growth. It’s not extravagant; it’s actually quite practical. Plant with purpose and reap the rewards.
     
    Dave Quinn, Fairview Economic Development
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