Economic Gardening

Economic Gardening is a new, strategic approach to community and regional economic development that is receiving increased notoriety across the U.S.   The approach is straightforward:  Focus on growing innovative entrepreneurial, second stage businesses—the so-called “gazelles”—that over time can create significant levels of new employment opportunities versus following a traditional pattern of “economic hunting” of larger, well-established firms.

In the mid-1980s, Littleton, Colorado faced significant economic challenges resulting from a statewide recession, layoffs in the thousands by the community’s major employer Martin Marietta, and other factors.  Instead of taking the more traditional approach of seeking the next big employer replacement, in 1989 the community  embarked on “building the economy from the inside out, relying primarily on entrepreneurs” (see http://www.littletongov.org/bia/economicgardening/).  The result was a resounding success; over the past 15 years, Littleton has experienced a 136 percent increase in new jobs.  Economic Gardening was born.

The Edward Lowe Foundation identifies three basic elements of Economic Gardening:

  1. Provide critical information needed by businesses to survive and thrive.
  2. Develop and cultivate an infrastructure that goes beyond basic physical infrastructure and includes quality of life, a culture that embraces growth and change, and access to intellectual resources, including qualified and talented employees.
  3. Develop connections between businesses and the people and organizations that can help take them to the next level — business associations, universities, roundtable groups, service providers and more.

Economic Gardening programs are observed as statewide initiatives in Wyoming and Florida and practiced at a community level in Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Oregon and California.  A National Economic Gardening Conference is offered annually to share successes and lessons learned and advance tools useful to states and communities in their economic development efforts (see http://www.negc2011.com/index.html).

For more information on Economic Gardening, visit the above referenced links as well as:

Main Street in Littleton, CO (Photo by Kent Kanouse // Flickr Creative Commons)

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