Local Culture, Politics, and Economic Development

Economic development is much, much more than mere economics and economic development strategies!

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Don’t agree? How about conducting a public hearing, making a presentation at a legislative budget hearing, reading a newspaper report on your last Board meeting, and stumbling upon some irate idiot at the grocery store or the Saturday night social event. Economic developers live in, and work for, communities full of people, not economic regions populated by statistics and methodologies. Communities have a history, cultural values and beliefs, governments and politicians, conflicting interest and demographic groups–and every so often some bozo from the State or Federal government wanders in to help put “order” in your life. Economics is important to economic development, but doing, working and living economic development is a lot more than just economics.

And that is why we have the theme Local Culture, Politics, and Economic Development.

Articles in 'Local Culture, Politics, and Economic Development'

As Two Ships: the History of American State and Local Economic Development Since 1789 to the 1980’s

American state and local economic development (ED) has been around since Day One (1789) of the American Republic—it didn’t start in 1937, 1945 or 1965. Recognizable forms of many current ED strategies, tools and programs can be found by the 1880’s. My recently-published “History of American State and Local Economic Development, 1789-1990: As Two Ships Pass in the Night” (As Two Ships) presents our historical evolution from George Washington to 1990—all 752 pages of it. My next two issues of the Journal will present twelve observations (six per issue) drawn from As Two Ships. I will infuse them with additional insight to provide perspective and a foundation for future issues of the Journal and make them easier to apply to current events. These observations will provide a background and a base from which to rethink one’s ideas regarding the history–and purpose–of American state and local economic development. They will open you to new ways on how to approach your job, research, and your profession.
This issue will discuss the core fundamentals of my history and also will introduce what the book labels the “Chapter One Model” .

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Breaking Up [Paradigms] is so Hard-to-Do

President Trump’s challenge compels us to confront the Forgotten People problem swept under the rug by economic developers current paradigms: innovation, knowledge-based economics, university-led economic development, and “gazelle” clusters and occupations. The January article redefines Forgotten People, presents an alternative way to “do” economic development at the state and local level and offers four thought-provoking programs that involve nothing less than a new approach to economic and community development–a community-based, community rebuilding, Back to the New Deal, service sector-focused skills-development employment.

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Let’s Take a Stroll Down Memory Lane: Victor Gruen and the Central Business District

City versus suburbs used to be a very big issue in economic development. It still is! So let’s take a stroll down economic development’s “memory lane”–to the days of 1950’s CBD collapse and resurrect its then- potential savior, the “father of suburban malls”, Victor Gruen. Gruen tried to save the CBD and revitalize the central city–but that has been fogged over by time. What can we learn from Gruen? Why did he fail? What lessons can we glean from these very important years when suburbs became suburbs and central cities assumed their present status in our metro areas?

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Community Development in the Ghetto: a Review of Bennett Harrison’s Survey of Ghetto-Based Community Development

In this review, I question whether community development in deeply depressed neighborhoods involves a dynamic that further complicates success of its initiatives. That dynamic is race. More often than not, community development initiatives occur in predominately African-American low-income neighborhoods. In this article I raise the issue as to whether the residents of these neighborhoods prefer assimilation over their current neighborhood–a place that houses the “community”. What if a sizeable percentage of residents do not want to assimilate, or define their personal assimilation in such ways that render assimilation difficult. Do recent community mobilizing movements potentially affect the success of current and future community development initiatives by encouraging place-based solutions for African-Americans. Assimilation in such a context becomes a cultural cul du sac that threatens to create a perpetual ghetto.

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Community Development: It’s Time to Question the Basics

This issue offers an unasked for critique of several community development issues/principles that reflects an outsider’s sense that this very significant economic development approach is at a crossroads. My recommendation is that community developers might rethink of a couple of long-standing conceptual pillars which have come to be dysfunctional. As a benchmark I will dredge up a perspective, now almost seventy years old, that I believe will be helpful.

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What Can ED Learn from Baltimore’s Sandtown?

Let’s turn the recent Baltimore riots into a teachable hour for economic developers. Sandtown, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood, offers a unique and fascinating perspective on neighborhood-level, people-based economic development. So let’s task ourselves with the following objectives: (1) briefly outline the two types of community development that were applied to Sandtown; and (2) review post 1990 Sandtown community development(s), participants and their objectives; (3) briefly critique Sandtown-style community development, finally conclude, and send you off on your merry way.

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Chambers of Commerce: First Wave Magicians of Main Street

Can you believe up to now no one has written a modern history of American chambers of commerce? Not until Chris Mead recently published his one-of-a-kind Magicians on Main Street. So let’s use Magicians of Main Street and investigate how well the conventional wisdom concerning the FIRST Wave of economic development holds up. If the First Wave doesn’t prove accurate–what does it say about the other two waves?

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Economic Developers: Ignore the Glitz! Focus on What Matters

The core idea behind this series of articles is to help local economic developers navigate and function effectively within their communities–sort of an on-the-job helpful advice. In this issue, we deepen our understanding of the Policy/Practitioner World nexus building upon two elements introduced in the first issue. To penetrate more deeply into the local situation, we will also introduce a new concept: “the policy cycle”. The thrust of our article/series is to move from the glitz–concentrate on making programs work–concentrate on developing programs that address community concerns. problems, and opportunities as they see and feel them.

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What the Heck is Going On with Local Economic Development?

I’m amazed how little is written about what goes on at the state and local levels.

Most of us work in a community or at the state level and our daily professional lives are a lot more complicated than simply “creating jobs/clusters”, “preparing knowledge-based workers” or “developing disruptive entrepreneurs”. OK–there is the usual flood of blogs describing new policy issues, incredibly brilliant programs, and cutting-edge economic development strategies. But there is precious little about what it is like to work in sub-state economic development. There is seldom anyone who writes about how things get done locally and how a local economic developer can function effectively. That is what this issue is about.

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The Vanishing Neighbor

Marc J. Dunkelman, The Vanishing Neighbor: the Transformation of American Community Why should an economic developer read a political sociology book? Because economic growth or decline is not simply the result of good and bad economics! Politics, cultural values, and changes in our personal lifestyles and relationships surprisingly can affect our success at the local and state levels. Despite its strange sounding name, the Vanishing Neighbor explores how economic changes generate societal changes with political consequences that make it difficult to develop effective solutions to address economic and social problems in our communities. What happens if societal change causes economic stagnation, inequality, and political gridlock? That’s what Dunkelman is trying to help us think through. Why does a vanishing neighbor change how we do our jobs?

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