With summer vacations complete and schools back in session, cities and regions must renew their resolve to face new and persistent challenges: helping businesses and organizations return to the office in the new pandemic-normal, sustaining a heightened focus on equity, establishing public safety, providing more housing at affordable levels, and supporting industries that can have an impact on the climate crisis. That’s a lot to take on, and it can be hard for community and economic developers to know how their efforts come together to make progress on the entirety of this agenda.

How can we rebuild better, and make society and systems more equitable and sustainable? Economic, social, and environmental challenges can seem overwhelming to understand, but as with most complex challenges, cities and regions would do well to start with the basics and be true to the fundamentals of what makes for a great community.

Community Attributes Inc. (CAI) is a community and economic development consultancy. Our strategic plans and research have served communities and industries across the U.S. over nearly 20 years. This work has led us to develop a resilient framework to organize strategies. Our framework is anchored in fundamental community development needs, and ensures strategies are inclusive and strive for prosperity, in both the near term and well into the future.

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Equity & Inclusiveness Throughout
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Equity and inclusiveness run throughout each of the three tiers of economic development (as opposed to being relegated to its own section). Cities and regions can map the quality of life concerns to be a good place to live (Tier 1). They can see gaps in the services and neighborhoods to address. Workforce and business supports should address inequities and help level the playing field for business and the labor force (Tier 2). Promotion and recruitment efforts can bring attention to areas in need of private investment (Tier 3).

Assessing equity focus can be as simple as answering this question for each strategic action, “Who benefits, and why?”
Foundational: Be a Good Place to Live
Too often cities and regions think what’s holding back their community is a misunderstood brand or image. They spend precious resources to attract attention with a new logo or tagline. In the meantime, perhaps, their problems may be well known, such as a weak community presence, public safety problems, local infrastructure gaps, or displacement from growth effects. A city’s reputation might be better enhanced by investing in sidewalks and curbs in residential areas, for example, rather than spending money on a new logo or tagline.
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The foundation of a sound local and regional economy are elements that define a good place to live, as quality of life determines where we want to invest our lives and financial resources. The Seattle Foundation, one of the U.S.’s great community foundations, years ago established a healthy community framework to organize quality of life concerns: the economy, education, health and wellness, arts and culture, natural environment, basic needs, and neighborhoods and community. Community Attributes embraces these seven categories as a framework for the foundation of an economic development strategy. A great economy starts by being a great place – to live, to work, to play.
Your Best Bet: Work With What You Have
Next, regions should nurture and support existing businesses. Local employers have already invested and are committed to be there. Sometimes friction arises locally that must be addressed. Talent shortages, rising business taxes, increasing costs for rent, buildings, labor, all create challenges for businesses to thrive. Businesses may need help to find new markets and trade partners. They may lack local resources and suppliers or need help to find skilled workers to meet growth opportunities. Nurturing and supporting local companies is the surest bet for local economic growth and defines economic resiliency.
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Understanding local businesses’ needs requires relationships with local businesses, and data that track their needs. Strategies can help businesses stay and expand, known collectively as business retention and expansion, or BRE. Local business networking events foster new partnerships to leverage. Advocacy efforts can take business climate concerns to civic leaders and policy makers, to help businesses speak with one voice. Workforce development initiatives connect human resources to business needs.
Strategically: Go After What You Want
Finally, communities and regions need to get the word out on what a great place they are for businesses, residents and visitors. Promotional efforts should encourage visitors to patronize local businesses and entice businesses to invest in your community.
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Some promotional work should be broad in message and celebrate community assets and attractions. Other efforts should focus on growing specific industries, cite local strengths and pursue areas of opportunity. Strategies can expand economic diversity or support and grow established industries. Specific development sites can be promoted, along with innovation districts, local talent pipelines and other assets. Investment support or incentives can help lower the barrier to entry for new businesses to form, but recruitment need not always lead with such lures.
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Leaders wishing to promote economic development in their community should first assess local needs within this framework. Have they built a solid foundation from which to grow? Are all residents benefiting from community investments? Are there underutilized resources and opportunities to leverage for growth? Can they attract outside talent and investment? Answering these questions will help leaders understand where to focus attention and resources.
Learn more about how Community Attributes helped the City of Tacoma in their efforts to build a more equitable future for residents in their community.
To learn more about Community Attributes, our approach to economic development, and our CAI Live platform, visit our website at http://vbnfotech.com/.