Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Creating Healthy Small Town Economies by Mike Corthell

According to my research the most successful rural communities in America have implemented several of these best practices:

They have created networks to support entrepreneurs and micro business development
Economic development is most successful when you deversify and don't invest money and hope in just one large employer. Communities can withstand economic upheavals better when there are many small and micro businesses. If one or several do not survive, there are still employment opportunities. These businesses will continue to contribute to the local economy in contrast to one major employer closing. To support entrepreneurs, some communities have entrepreneurial gatherings like after hours to share resources and ideas.
They think local and support local business first
Simply stated our local businesses cannot survive if we do not support them. When you support local businesses first your money stays in the local economy. It circulates throughout your community and creates jobs. A healthy community has a strong 'Buy Local' economy.

They grow and retain local businesses
It is always more cost effective to retain a business already in your community rather than recruiting new businesses. Utilizing an existing organization like a chamber or business association, is a proven way to retain or expand local businesses and it is often the best resource for creating local jobs. A business retention and expansion program that utilizes local volunteers to connect businesses to resources can help with planning, marketing, financing, and other needs required for entrepreneurial success.

They help start new businesses
Every community has people who come forward with great ideas but they may not have resources and training to get a business a new business off the ground. Connecting these people to resources or programs is a very good way to grow the local economy. They inturn will sell products and provide services that create jobs and support the local economy.

They develop downtown revitalization programs
A prosperous, healthy downtown boosts the economy and quality of life in a community. Specifically, a healthy downtown creates jobs, and is a symbol of community pride and history. There are many approaches to revitalization, including the Main Street Approach which was developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and focuses on four areas: organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring. Most rural communities in America have expanded from a historic, small downtown core. In many towns, Main Street is still the heart and soul of the community.

They have organized farmers markets and community supported agriculture
A farmers market provides residents with fresh local products as an alternative to traditional supermarkets. By supporting local farmers consumers know what they are buying and where it comes from, And it keeps money in the local economy. Many farmers markets become large community events, where families come out, listen to live entertainment - which also helps build social structure within the community.

They have developed visitor amenities and tourism
The travel industry is often a large economic contributor to rural communities. It can bring in twice as much income to rural areas as compared with urban areas. Many of the tourism businesses are sole-proprietors, which illustrates that the tourism industry supports entrepreneurs.  Rural tourism promotes responsible travel by providing visitor services and attractions that generate local revenue while preserving cultural heritage.

It is important to remember that boosting a local economy takes time. If your community implements some or all of these best practices you won't see over-night success but in time a new prosperity will take root, grow and thrive. It takes time and commitment from citizens, community leaders, volunteers and existing businesses to see these best practices take hold and become part of the community fabric. It can be done and is being done - across America. It is one of the things our country does best – creates healthy businesses.  

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