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The introduction to Rebooting Local Economies: How to Build Prosperous Communities explains why community and economic development should be on-going practices for any community that wants to become an even better place to live, work and play. The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call showing communities around the world how quickly economic disaster can occur. However, pandemic or not, every day communities face the realization or risk of sudden crises from large employers shutting down or other economic shocks. Some of these communities will need to “reboot” their local economies by attracting new industries, encouraging the startup of new companies, or creating jobs and incomes in new innovative ways. Communities that have not experienced such economic shocks will still want to move forward, and smart community and economic development practices are the keys to success.
I.1 Encourage others in your community to read the book and learn more about community and economic development.
A key point of the book is that the more that residents of a community understand the principles and best practices of community and economic development, the more likely the community is to improve itself. Rebooting Local Economies: How To Build Prosperous Communities is written in a layman’s style and intended for this universal audience.
1. Share the book
2 . Work with your peer group. Outside of our families, we interact and communicate most with our peer groups. For many of us, that includes our work colleagues. Peers also include people you interact with through social contacts, civic clubs, neighborhood associations, churches, and many other groups that share a common interest or purpose. Elected officials have perhaps the broadest peer groups – the public. Your recommendation to read the book and learn more about building a better community will carry more weight among your peers in various groups that know you or at least share the same interests or purpose.
3. Invite guest speakers. Identify potential speakers knowledgeable about community and economic development (CED) and topics in the book using the following five steps:
I.2 Establish Community Action Groups with regular meetings (in-person or virtual, depending on the situation and preference in your community) to discuss key concepts in the book, how they apply to your community and how to begin the journey to community prosperity.
Chapter 1 of Rebooting Local Economics is all about rebooting and revitalizing a community after a period of downturn or crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020, or if your community hasn’t suffered a setback, simply charting the best way to your brand of prosperity. In both bases, communities need to identify the key players (hopefully many in the community) and their roles. Whether specific to your locale or a national or even a global event that has impacted your community, it takes everyone working together to take stock of where you are on the back side of the event, define what normal looks like moving forward, and what you need to do to create opportunities for community prosperity.
The goal of the three worksheets for Chapter 1 is to help take inventory of where your community is post-crisis, whether this is the pandemic or another situation, so that you can bring your community together to be clear on where you stand before you make plans to move forward so that you can all move forward together.
1.1 Assess the pandemic’s effect, reaction and opportunity on your community. In your Community Action Groups, discuss and assess the ways the COVID-19 pandemic (or other crises) impacted your community. Were there long-term effects on your community? If so, what? What opportunities have been created? Do a self-assessment (conduct a community survey if you like) of how your community reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic. How did local governments, community and economic development agencies (including chambers of commerce) and other civic organizations participate? This resource provides guidelines for your preparation, discussion questions and actions to help mobilize this effort.
1.2 Inventory the businesses recovery and assistance programs in your community. Does your community have business start-up assistance or mentoring programs? How can the community assist the owners/managers of closed businesses and other entrepreneurs to start new businesses?
1.3 Determine how remote work friendly your community is. Use this worksheet to get an idea for how remote work friendly your community is and how you can improve.
Chapter 2 challenges us to think about the real meaning of community prosperity and assess the level of prosperity in our own communities. The chapter shows that true community prosperity is not just confined to economic measures, but includes many more components related to the quality of life and standard of living in a community. The Roadmap to Prosperity is one tool the chapter offers to help your community prioritize issues and opportunities and develop its own definition of prosperity.
The goal for the Chapter 2 worksheets is through a collaborative effort to build a community vision and develop a customized roadmap to prosperity with input from all who call your community home.
2.1 Create a prosperous community website to help gather survey responses and other comments and to keep residents informed of community prosperity efforts and programs.
2.2 Gather input from residents and stakeholders to use in creating a community vision and customized roadmap to prosperity. Ask residents to describe the kind of community they would like to live in and they envision for the future. What aspects of the community do they like and dislike? What are the community’s assets to build on and liabilities to work on?
2.3 Using the community input, identify and prioritize the community components and factors that residents believe best define your community’s prosperity. In other words, create and customize a prosperous community components and factors table such as Figure 2.9 for your community. Look for common elements in all the community input and comments as input for developing a vision and plan for the future of the community (Chapter 3 toolbox).
Chapter 3 of Rebooting Local Economies is about what you need to do to create a path to a more prosperous community so that you can start responding to and creating opportunities of your own. Establishing a strong foundation is essential for making use of your current assets, as well as identifying ways to improve your current condition (whatever it may be), and seizing opportunities. Chapter 3’s tools are designed to help you identify the assets and resources your community already has that can make it more prosperous, measure your community’s social capital, and gain feedback from your community to understand your current situation.
The goal of the three worksheets for Chapter 1 is to help take inventory of where your community is so you can bring your community together to be clear on where you stand before you make plans to move forward, so that you can all move forward together.
3.1 Map the assets in your community. Conduct an asset mapping exercise or survey to find assets that can make your community more prosperous. Sometimes these are apparent and sometimes they are hidden (for example, skill sets that may exist across a group of residents). Asset mapping affords a better understanding of the relationships and synergies among a community’s assets.
3.2 Gauge your community’s social capital. Learn the characteristics of successful communities and community builders through the chapter’s worksheets and use those guides to rate your community
3.3 Take the Civic Index. The National Civic League developed the Civic Index to help communities measure and develop skills and processes for evaluating and improving their civic infrastructures. This index can aid the community visioning process and planning and strengthen problem-solving capacity.
3.4 Get feedback on your community. Ask colleagues, friends, or others who visit your community to comment on what they see, both positive and negative. This is just another way of gathering objective input for your strategic plan for community and economic development. Work to build on the positive while remedying the negative.
3.5 Start a community visioning process. This is a significant undertaking, but as discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, it is quite essential for designing your community’s roadmap to prosperity. Use your draft roadmap from Chapter 2 and the above tools in Chapter 3 as inputs to the visioning process. After you have completed the process, revisit the draft Roadmap to Prosperity in Chapter 2 and adjust as appropriate.
The theme of Chapter 4 is building on the foundation of a prosperous-ready community with the economic development process to achieve the outcome of a prosperous community. It starts with a simple model of how money flows into and out of your community to create wealth. However, true community prosperity goes much deeper—it also involves defining economic development for your community and proactive marketing to achieve your vision of prosperity.
The Chapter 4 tools are intended to help you assess how your community has grown and changed in recent years; it’s competitive advantages; your community’s economic development process; and collaboration with surrounding communities for regional economic development programs and opportunities.
4.1 Assess the growth and change that has occurred in your community over the past 5 to 10 years. Using the boxes “How Does Your Local Economy Measure Up?” from Chapter 2 and “Is It Economic Development or Just Growth?” from this chapter as guides, decide whether your community has experienced economic development or just growth. Are income levels in your community increasing? Is your workforce becoming more skilled? Is recent growth consistent with your community’s vision for the future? Use the results of this assessment as a call to action and, if necessary, a course correction in your community’s roadmap to prosperity.
4.2 Assess your community as a competitive location for businesses and other job-generating organizations. Through focus groups, individual interviews, and surveys, obtain broad input from existing businesses and organizations on the strengths and weaknesses of your community as a business location. Statistical benchmarking of your community to others in terms of wage rates, cost of living, and other key locational factors is also extremely useful. Some communities engage consultants to help them with this process and compare them to other communities. An outside, objective viewpoint is often the best way to evaluate your community. Develop plans to address the weaknesses and build on the strengths.
4.3 Evaluate the economic development process in your community. What organizations in your community directly deliver economic development services or are otherwise involved? Understand how these organizations are funded and staffed. Are they delivering the kinds of economic development services such as marketing, business recruitment, business retention, and new business startup assistance discussed in this chapter as appropriate for your community? Compare the economic development process in your community with other communities. State departments of economic development or outside consultants can assist in this comparison.
4.4 Determine the status and/or potential for regional economic development programs and activities. Does your community currently cooperate with surrounding communities or counties to promote your region to companies, tourists, or other appropriate target markets? How successful have those efforts been and how can your community promote more regional cooperation for economic development?
We would love to hear from you! Please submit any recommendations you have for the tools so that we can continually improve and adjust as the community and economic development needs change.