Local government has a critical role to play in a community’s economic development future.
Elected officials and community policy makers are needed to maintain a process that creates high-wage employment and sustains a strong local economy. This process begins with a dynamic, business-friendly environment and a desirable quality of life. These are the elements that attract new companies to a community and keep them there to grow, create jobs, write paychecks, and generate tax revenue.
It is this business growth that allows local governments to fund essential community services such as infrastructure maintenance and expansion, schools, and public safety services. Quality public services improve the overall business and living environment, which in turn attracts more revenue producing growth and expansion.
Unfortunately, there is also a negative process that can occur in a community.
Continued cuts in federal funding for local governments and other revenue reductions in recent years have put increasing pressure on local governments to pick up the slack.
Local governments everywhere have been forced to resort to higher taxes, elimination of programs, and cuts in funding community services and capital improvements.
Such actions work against generating sustainable economic growth. When a community’s business environment deteriorates, established companies may leave. Expanding or relocating companies may seek out other communities with better amenities.
As revenue streams shrink and funding for community services become less, a community can begin to lose its ability to attract and sustain new economic growth.
It is also not uncommon to find businesses elect to move to another community because local government is unable or unwilling to create solutions to community based issues – everything from eliminating tax inequity to cutting red tape or facilitating resolution of issues impacting potential business expansions.
The relationship between local business and local government does not need to be adversarial if both are to contribute to local economic vitality.
City Hall is the key to creating and maintaining a marketable product for business. Economic development programs, expansion, retention or attraction, all depend on local governments to help create and maintain the marketable product, our community.
Local elected officials and the organizations they govern represent the front lines in planning and implementing the undeniable elements of effective job creation:
Know your community’s assets and sell them;
Know your community’s weaknesses and fix them.
Local government and business must share a common vision for their community’s economic development future.
Successful economic development programs seek to balance the building of a vital local economy and positive business environment with elements that make a community a good place to work and to live.
Economic growth often provokes controversy, but consensus and compromise remain possible if both local government and business share a vision of where their community is going and how it is going to get there. The relationship between local government and business is symbiotic. Government needs a vibrant and strong business community to provide the basis (jobs, higher wages, and tax revenue) for the local economy.
Business needs supportive government to provide the community services that encourage business to grow and prosper. Neither can survive for long without the other. Economic development practitioners can help put a community’s assets and liabilities in business terms.
Practitioners have a unique perspective that comes from the companies that they work with as to what is right and what is wrong about a community in terms of its business environment. Problems or issues that make a community less competitive in the high-stakes ED game of maintaining and attracting economic growth also need to be brought to the attention of local governments.
Going to established local firms to gauge their level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction will give local government representatives a clear idea of any aspects of their community’s business attitude and practices that are perceived as unfriendly.
Local companies can also be able to help public officials prioritize issues and offer suggestions on how to make needed changes.
Now and in the future, local governments will have an increasingly important role to play in the creation of new jobs. Local government and the business community need each other to build a long-term, vibrant economic future for our community.
Rob Pochert is the executive director of the Bellingham/Whatcom Economic Development Council.