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You are sitting in a public hearing about the zoning changes you have been preparing for the past year, fighting a sense of despair and futility. More projects have been abandoned than have been started. Money is tight -- at least one of the cancelled projects lost its financing at the last minute. More than ever, it feels as if the title “Planning Commissioner” doesn’t reflect your role -- shouldn’t planners be able to offer a path forward, even through dark times?
The local economic development authority has been working as hard as they can to attract new businesses. They spend money, even in the downturn, on trips to distant places to try and find the next big new enterprise to bring to town. They often return empty-handed. The economy elsewhere suffers the same sluggishness as here at home, they say. Maybe when things pick up they’ll have better luck.
Is this search for external investment the best strategy for strengthening the local economy? Consider this:
1. The vast majority of new jobs are created by small and medium sized firms, not large employers.
2. New markets, jobs, capital, technology, and economic expansion are generated when cities start to produce goods and services that were previously provided by distant exporters.
3. Start-up, innovative, entrepreneurial enterprises are on the increase in the 21st Century, while the large manufacturers that dominated the economies of the 19th and 20th Centuries are declining.
4. Local long-term wealth creation and economic security are dependent on local ownership of productive capacity; simply receiving wages for employment while the profits are exported to distant corporate centers robs the local economy of the capital it needs to succeed.
5. An over-reliance on export-led development can undermine the long-term economic health of a community. More attention needs to be paid to local needs and markets. Similarly, communities that develop local exchange systems and reduce reliance on the national currency will also enhance long-term local wealth creation.
6. Companies that are locally owned are much more sensitive to community needs and environmental conditions, and can lessen a city or town’s vulnerability to job losses when economic downturns occur.
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