What has been my approach to economic development as it relates to Whatcom County?
To most everyone, Economic Development almost always means the “Growth” of something as a measurement of economic activity; more jobs, income, wealth, population, tax base, size of jurisdiction; more of something.
The challenge of Economic Development is bigger than growth.
Today Economic Development is about new ways of thinking regarding the community in which we live. Economic Development is just one part of a bigger picture.
Don’t we all want to live in “A Place Where Things Work”? Where the water, sewers, streets, hospitals, schools, and airports, all the things government does, seems to work.
“A Place that Works” is also where per-capita wealth increases, where all businesses have a good chance to become fast, flexible, networked, and global, and where there is a broad sharing of values.
What I am talking about is Community Development. Now, what is the difference between Economic Development and Community Development?
Basically, Economic Development is any activity that creates new employment opportunities and/or broadens the tax base. Community Development is a bit harder to define.
Usually development means growth. But in this discussion, “Development” will mean, any change from or modification of the current situation.
“Community” refers to a geographical place, and the people who live there.
Recombining the two words, “Community Development,” we are now talking about any change that affects the people living in a place. It is the lack of precision of this definition that makes it hard for most economic developers to realize they are really community developers.
Economic development needs to be in the business of creating a place that:
1. Has business enterprises that have a future,
2. Provides more per-capita wealth for the community,
3. Provides strong and healthy voluntary associations; and
4. Provides user-friendly government that responds to and values citizen involvement.
This describes a community animated by a vision, where wealth increases, where enterprises become more productive; and where social, economic, and political values are broadly shared.
It is also a community where all institutions — public, private, and voluntary — have a good chance to become fast, flexible, networked and global.
Too often, general citizens, community leaders, and even economic developers, champion just the narrow job and tax base view of economic development.
Economic Development must continue in order to meet the needs of jobs and taxes, but the development of each community must be well planned, orderly, and of high quality.
If Economic Development is to continue with maximum benefit and minimum detriment to people and communities, it will require the practitioner to keep a watchful eye on all the consequences of economic development activity, not just jobs and taxes.
It is important to ensure that issues of job and wealth creation are not separated from issues of education, transportation, health care, housing and general quality of life.
Take a comprehensive approach integrating economic and community development.
Align talent, information systems and performance measurements to meet the requirements of the local situation.
Be customer oriented, and tailor activities to satisfy the unique needs of local entrepreneurs, and other enterprises.
Teach by packaging knowledge with best practices.
Learn by using assessment strategies to provide quality feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of services provided.
These are the main elements of “A Place that Works,”
This response is not about things like work-ready labor force, capital availability and other items usually discussed in the context of Economic Development.
These things happen in the context of institutions and processes that are created by the core elements of “A Place that Works.”
It is the job of those responsible for Economic Development, the public and private entities that do the work of economic development, to keep their eye on the ball to make sure that all those core elements are in place and sustained.
These are the elements of the philosophy that have contributed to my successful history of doing economic development in rural communities in the Pacific Northwest for the past 15 years.
This philosophy or “approach” is what I brought to Whatcom County in 2003 and has been the basis for all my work in Whatcom County and the northwest region of Washington.
Don Drake has spent twenty years working in executive roles in philanthropy. He served as president of Whatcom Community Foundation from 1997 until September 2005.