Working with and in communities in the capacity of economic development for over two decades I’ve seen the subtle, incremental dismantling of good economic development practices. Incremental dismantling of a community is created and fueled by poor public administration, misguided policy, and ego driven behaviors.
Economic development in many communities is taking place at the expense of the citizens and community resources. In the past economic development was shaped by community development, which included planning, civic service, and a sense of the greater good. Over the last decade or more it appears in many places to be morphing into a win at all cost, any project is a good project, ‘shoot at anything that flies, claim anything that falls’ charade.
Does planning still take place in communities? Often planning does take place, implementation however does not always follow. I had a conversation a few weeks ago with someone who makes a very nice living creating community plans. He voiced frustration and discouragement of repeatedly seeing his work completed, only to go sit on a shelf in an office never to be actually implemented. So we know paying for a plan isn’t enough. Staying focused and implementing policy to support a plan is vital.
In the places that economic development has become a shell of the original intent you can see a direct correlation between the incremental dismantling, or even production of poor policy to feed the ‘beast’ as community resources are squandered. When economic development is more about headline and glory grabs community members will disengage and a downward cycle will develop.
True economic development is focused on community engagement, growth, planning, and development supported by well thought out and implemented policy. When good policy is in place the public administration path is clear and the influence of politics and/or ego diminishes. That is a formula that leads to community and resource growth, as well as civic pride.