Commentary

Community Economic Development is Everyone's Business

Community economic development has a lot to offer to Hamilton, and Hamilton has a lot it can give back.

By Jack Santa-Barbara
Published October 06, 2006

On June 23, 2006, two important events related to community economic development were held in Hamilton.

The first was a public presentation by Michael Shuman entitled The Small Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition. In this presentation [PDF], Michael offered an overview of the many advantages of community economic development.

Community economic development consists of businesses that are locally owned and operated and that provide a community with the essential goods and services needed for a comfortable life.

He dispelled many myths about local businesses, pointing out that the data clearly show that local businesses can be competitive, create significant new employment opportunities, and innovate.

In addition, local businesses are generally more concerned about their social and physical environments, and thus make a contribution to their community beyond economic activity.

Michael also pointed out how local businesses are often disadvantaged by different kinds of subsidies provided by various levels of governments to large corporations, even though supporting local businesses has a greater community impact. With local businesses, profits are more likely to remain and circulate within the community, and loyalty to the community is greater.

Local businesses do not have to remain small. Many export goods and services outside the community. A priority and key characteristic of community economic development, however, is that it focuses on providing essential goods and services locally.

This makes the community more self-reliant and less susceptible to external events outside its control. With the rising costs of fuel needed for transportation, this feature will become increasingly important.

In summary, Michael presented an approach to community economic development that could be quite promising for Hamilton, even though the current dominant approach is to attract corporations who will create a large number of jobs quickly. Therefore, any attempts to pursue community economic development will require education and coordination of efforts.

Going Local

The second event was a workshop held after Michael's presentation. The purpose of the workshop was to explore how some of the ideas Michael presented might be adopted here in Hamilton.

A number of questions were posed to Michael and fellow workshop participants. Some of the points Michael made in response and that can be found in his book, Going Local, were:

Part of the workshop was a quick review of some of the positive characteristics of Hamilton that could contribute to expanding community economic development, including:

A more systematic look is likely to identify considerably more positive characteristics.

The workshop also brainstormed about some of the more immediate actions that could be taken to promote CED, which include:

Community economic development provides an approach to improving Hamilton's prosperity (in the broadest sense) that is new and promising. Workshop participants indicated an interest in pursuing some of these ideas and finding others in the community who feel they could also benefit from and contribute to such an approach.

If you are one of these interested people in the community, you are welcomed to contact Jack and get involved!

Jack Santa-Barbara is a retired business executive, and former Co-Chair of Action 2020. He is the co-director of Hamiltonians for Progressive Development, an organization dedicated to articulating and supporing a progressive approach to city planning.

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