The U.S. economy is delivering a humbling lesson about economic development, the potential of local economic development is to do what markets alone cannot do, influence growth through action and investments. Yet, in too many communities, the practice of conventional economic development remains focused solely on the former while the latter is deemed someone else’s responsibility. One sees this in local marketing efforts touting their latest economic successes, and expanded private-sector investments. Indeed, aggregate growth matters. However, company gains are not the same as worker gains. Ignoring the plight of workers who are under and unemployed limits future growth. The challenge of economic development is to embrace that lesson—fully and urgently.
To be fair, many state and local leaders want more than growth for growth’s sake. They want to grow good jobs, connect young adults and workers to those jobs, and keep their industries competitive. This is hard, long-term work. It requires blending programs, working across systems, forging new partnerships, and working with both long-term goals and shorter-term metrics for success. Yet the existing structures and missions of organizations and programs make this important work nearly impossible. Chanute has shifted and broadened the purpose and practice of economic development to generate continuous growth, prosperity, and inclusion. Every three to five years, including every election cycle, influential groups of leaders in cities and metro areas across the country convene to update or set a new economic development agenda, with goals, priorities, strategies, and initiatives they operationalize through investment of time and resources. Who participates, the work of those leaders, and the systems they shape help establish the future trajectory of their communities and are at the heart of how regions can redefine and expand the vision and practice of economic development. We have seen this most recently here in Chanute with our strong growth, and the vision created for our future.
As stated before, the power of getting together to promote local economic development is to do what markets alone cannot do, influence growth through action and investments. The purpose of economic development should be to put a local and regional economy on a trajectory of higher growth by increasing the productivity of companies and workers that raises standards of living for all. This brand of economic development can lead to deep prosperity with growth that is robust, shared, and enduring. This generative work must occur within regional economic ecosystems and address highly local market failures. Given this purpose, economic development here refers to the system of economic growth and development in regions. It is broader than the traditional practice of economic development. The system involves not just economic development professionals but also elected officials, employers, workforce and education leaders, and other civic and nonprofit executives.
Today, local and regional economic development remains a patchwork of important innovations and legacy practices at a time when the global economy is fast-moving and not working for most people. Today’s economy requires leadership and innovative problem solving to adapt to major trends in the global economy. This is true as well for economic development. We need to continue talking on the local level about our local vision. About assuring a bright future for all of our citizens, about not just how many jobs are created, but about the sustainability of these jobs that they pay fair wages, provide some future security for them and their families. It truly is up to local public administrators, the CRDA, and other organizations to advocate for the public, while at the same time, helping to grow businesses so that there are real jobs available. Businesses are not charities, and we have to stop asking them to "give jobs" to people, but rather help them grow so that they need workers, and when that time comes, to make sure our workforce is educated and hardworking that will continue to push Chanute forward in our upward projection. We are on the upward path, and with continued leadership, we will continue our rise.
Chanute Regional Development Authority