In response to the Magic Bullets section of The Local Economy Revolution:

Editor's note: this and additional questions and comments about this section of Della's The Local Economy Revolution, can be found on our Linkedin group page. You can still add your own comments or questions there.

Wayne Senville:

Della: you write that "we need to choose the best opportunities across a variety of sectors and strategies, and we need to spread our resources — strategically." But with change happening at such a rapid pace -- look at the exponential growth in online shopping in just the past five years -- just how can a community plan an economic strategy, without having to almost immediately having to rethink its plan? Aren't communities, especially smaller ones, pretty much at the mercy of economic forces beyond their control?

Della Rucker:

The answer regarding whether smaller communities are at the mercy of economic forces beyond their control is Yes, and No.

A given community cannot transform itself into anything. Biotechnology is a very hot field in the past few years, and I've seen a lot of places assert that they're going to find a way to get into that, despite the fact that they don't have a research institution, or a research hospital, or people in their labor force with the right kind of expertise. I don't care how much incentives you through at the biotech industry, that ain't gonna work. No community is going to be able to be everything to everyone. We have to get over that idea.

That said, however, communities are most definitely not helpless. Every community has assets -- expertise, culture, institutions, existing businesses, history, buildings, whatever -- that can be leveraged for something. That something might not be the latest hot industry, it may not get glowing press coverage or put you on the cover of Time, and it might not be the highest-paying work possible. But it's worth something, and it's much better than just riding along on the race to the bottom.

Somewhere else in the book I assert that That Which Makes You Unique Makes You Valuable. In that section, I compare communities to consumer goods -- if yours is just the same as everyone else to me, I won't place much value on it -- I'll go wherever I can get that basic thing cheapest. And someone will always be cheaper than you, sooner or later. But if you offer something unique, that something might not be valuable to everyone, but if it's valuable to me, I'm going to be willing to invest more to get your benefits.

I think that applies not only to economic development decisions, but to zoning and urban design -- if you are targeting your community to those who will want to be there because of the fit between what you offer and what they are seeking, they will be more likely to both want to protect the value of your community's environment, and cooperate with you when you push them to plan for higher-quality buildings, better urban spaces, etc.

If we just assume that we have to accept whatever we can get because we're not anything special, then we shouldn't be surprised when we get crap. The critical challenge, especially for small communities, is to find the niches that they're best suited for by virtue of their assets, and focus on making themselves as appealing as possible to those who want that niche.