This article was written by Rachel Witt, Executive Director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. Read all the articles in Rachel’s Lessons & Partnerships in Community & Economic Development series.
Economic development does not begin with what new business hub you can bring to your community, but how the town enables its residents to find work where they live. People are to love their town. How does the town return that love, elevate them to their full potential, and look to the future? If you want to spur economic development, you are to look to the future, not the past. Here are several necessary components to spur economic development.
First, just like any product, you are selling the brand/identity of your town, city, or village. For example, your community could be known for hiking, biking, trails, ample transit, or cultural center. We are all competing with one another to attract businesses, families, and college graduates to our community. By having the proper promotions through social media, a video showing how your community stands out, and an easily navigable website; you are on a strong path to increase economic development for your town.
Second, what partnerships are in place. For instance, technical schools, community colleges, and nonprofits whose mission is to foster and grow people’s skills are the perfect combination to give hope for those in poverty to be elevated with skills for the future. These partnerships are the perfect plan to show love and support to those who live in your town.
Next is the cost of living and employment opportunities. Providing mixed-income housing will attract a larger demographic and potential employees to relocate to your community. A long commute for any type of job creates a high turnover and burnout. Having ample housing opportunities creates a happier and more productive workforce. Thus, increasing density will attract additional employers to relocate, expand, or launch their business knowing that your community has the needed workforce for their business.
Also, what is your community’s land use? By having the proper zoning, adequate infrastructure, and land, you will attract a mix of developers that can lure businesses that cater to an array of skilled workers that will set your community apart as well as spur economic growth. Many businesses vary in stages of growth; various size properties and land available will make your community more attractive to potential developers.
It is up to local government to sell its product to prospective businesses. Having a vision and proper zoning plus planning standards set an example and expectation. Perception is everything. If a potential business sees your community is organized, has a plan for growth, and supports a town center or a main street, this helps seal the deal.
Lately, the discussion of a 15-minute city has been a huge selling point to developers and individuals who would like to relocate to your community. Walkability to restaurants, services, retail, business hubs, etc. helps with congestion and promotes a healthy lifestyle.
Lastly, what type of tax incentives can you offer to make a large project cash flow. The risk is both on you and the developer by offering such incentives as tax abatement and tax incremental financing. Their Performa should give you the data to determine what projects will make the best fit for your community, thus offering tax incentives should be the last item to spur economic development.
We get stuck in the past, but we should always be looking to the future in our ever-changing world. Giving residents hope with their new skills will make your community prosperous and most of all happy. Furthermore, looking to the future instead of staying in the past will elevate your community for growth.
Rachel Witt is the Executive Director of the South Grand Community Improvement District. Graduate from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Geography, minor in Sociology and certification in Nonprofit Management. Master’s in public administration from Widener University emphasis in local government and economic development. Connect with Rachel on Linkedin or Email.