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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Economic development is a dynamic field. Once upon a time it was mostly a game of smokestack chasing. That is, actively working to lure typically blue-collar enterprises to either re-locate or develop new facilities in a jurisdiction. Often, various incentives would be offered in an attempt to triumph over every other region of the country ostensibly with their own compelling offers of low-cost land, infrastructure, and labour. But the downsides to this approach are substantial.  

First, the whole method pits one community against another in an adversarial, high-stakes game. Second, it no longer works. Small businesses will supply most of the new jobs that will drive our economy into the future. Larger companies are going global, decentralizing or simply using technology to replace large labour forces. This has led to a shift of focus for economic developers.  

Today, economists believe the old approach needs a healthy dose of something called economic gardening—basically, nurturing entrepreneurs to start new companies or helping them grow the small companies they’ve already got. Economic gardening was developed in the 1990s by Chris Gibbons in Littleton, CO. Its strategies are based on growing your own economy by investing in the people, companies and ideas already at work in your community. 

The result, ideally, is that instead of a few large employers, your community gets a more diverse and resilient mix of homegrown enterprises. The tools are different too. Instead of government funding, tax abatements and infrastructure, or even training, the focus of economic gardening is on providing critical information to small businesses and startup companies. This helps to develop an entrepreneurial culture of people and resources that includes talented employees and great places to live and work all while nurturing a network of people and information that helps small companies grow and succeed. 



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