Brower: What in the world is economic development?
September 12, 2017
Go look it up.
Economic development has so many broad definitions that it can border on meaningless while also seeming extremely important.
Here's the first definition I came up with on a basic Google search: From a policy perspective, economic development can be defined as efforts that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community by creating and/or retaining jobs and supporting or growing incomes and the tax base.
Wow. That sounds good and important and well worth pursuing, which is why I sometimes say to people that I'm in "economic development" with my job in which I offer free and confidential business management coaching to anyone in Grand County who asks for help.
But at the same time when I say that I feel a little bit silly.
Here's why. From any perspective (not only a "policy" perspective), why would any government, person or entity not seek to improve economic well-being and quality of life for a community? Thinking of it in the opposite, what in the world is out there that seeks to degrade and ruin the economic well-being and quality of life for a community, other than a foreign army invading its shores?
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Talk to a mayor, a town manager, the President of the United States, the local police chief, a school teacher, a physician, a tinker, tailor and candle stick maker . . . they'll say they are in favor of improving the economic well-being and quality of life for a community. Aren't we all, with the exception of the random psychopath, sociopath, or Kim Jung-un?
All that being said, the devil is in the details because there are many different types of economic development. There is top-down, structural economic development in which big business and big government spend big bucks to try an improve broad sectors of an area's economy.
Think of the likely efforts that will start in Denver and the Front Range to lure Amazon to Colorado for its new headquarters. The region's economic developers offered $15 million in incentives to Boeing when it was thinking of a similar move several years ago. What will they offer Amazon? Big bucks, that's for sure.
Think of things like efforts to build new transportation systems, like Denver's light rail system or a new and expanded airport. This is "top-down" because these things require lots of money — millions of dollars, in fact — and massive political efforts. It's top down because the big money required comes from the "top," that is not heaven but usually from tax increases used to stuff massive government coffers. The price for this is a tax increase, many times willingly approved by the voters, or sometimes unwillingly offset by other tax revenue.
Then there's "bottom-up" or grass-roots economic development, which is what I like to think is what I do. It's bottom-up because we nurture local small businesses who are at the bottom of the commerce cycle. It's bottom up because we do it only with local people who ask for help. We don't patronize or force our efforts on anyone. Its grassroots because we are a non-profit, run by volunteers and helped by a team of resource team volunteers.
It's bottom-up because it's cheap. Our annual budget is $76,500 a year, paid for through a collaborative funding effort from Grand County's Department of Economic Development (offset by funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture), the towns of Grand County, Freeport-McMoran Foundation, Mountain Parks Electric, Inc. and occasionally the Grand Foundation. We started with a donation from the private sector by Marise Cipriani, the owner of Granby Ranch.
It's grassroots because what we do is easy to understand: We offer free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. We believe that when our businesses succeed, our communities are happy.
It's that simple. And with more than 300 clients, 66 new businesses and 141 new jobs, it works.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at email@example.com.