In the movies, heroes stand up to the forces of evil or incompetent bureaucracy to stand up for what’s right and bring back truth, justice and prosperity for all.
Charismatic visionaries do change real-life communities for the better. But perhaps the confidence that one two “heroes” can make big changes is unfounded. The traditional economic view holds that bringing in a big corporate hero revitalizes a depressed city by producing jobs and stimulating infrastructure investment.
The corporation’s actions are hardly altruistic: it gets tax breaks and other incentives that some argue are counterproductive. The Washington Post, for example, cites critics who say that such incentives ultimately cost more than they bring to communities in the forms of jobs and economic growth; moreover, they are often misdirected while more deserving areas with more pressing problems are left unaddressed.
The hero has a dark side. Perhaps the future of economic development is better off without any heroes at all.
Related Article: Cultivating Entrepreneurship: How Startups Fuel Regional Economies
Image via The Metropolitan Revolution
The Post-Hero Network
In their book The Metropolitan Revolution, authors Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley maintain that urban areas are too big, too complicated and too diverse to depend on one or even several corporate superheroes. What they need are networks of smaller businesses and individuals.
One example cited is the northeast region of Ohio, encompassing the metropolitan areas of Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Youngstown. A few heroes had come to town over the years, notably the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Great Lakes Science Center and three new professional sports arenas. But neighborhoods remained depressed and the economy continued to stagnate.
Recovery actually began thanks to a network of philanthropic, individual, public and private sector efforts called The Fund for Economic Future.
- The goal: Transform the Northeast Ohio economy with strategies that simultaneously advance job creation, job preparation and job access.
- The results: 16,000 jobs created or retained, more than $600 million generated in business payrolls and $3 billion in capital investment since 2004.
- The stated reason for success: The alignment of resources to support coordinated stakeholder actions that develop and share an agenda, take aligned actions and measure progress at neighborhood, community, metropolitan and regional levels.
Similar results of networks to spur economic redevelopment are reported for Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Portland.
Related Article: Slaying the Goliaths: Small Business vs. Big Brands
Non-Heroes Add Up—SMBs
Essential to every network are small businesses working together to spur economic benefit development. In fact, according to the Washington Post, many economists hold that start-up companies are the most reliable sources for job creation, with studies showing that new firms are responsible for nearly all the nation’s job growth every year.
In addition, hiring by new firms remains consistent regardless of the sate of the economy, while hiring patterns at established companies fluctuate with the rise and fall of business cycles. And Business News Daily reports that small, locally-owned business provide higher long-term economic growth than big business, largely because corporations have internal accounting, supply and maintenance systems in place, while small companies contract with other small businesses for these services, thus stimulating the local economy.
Small businesses working together with community organizations to maximize economic recovery make heroic efforts to revitalize urban areas economically, socially and environmentally. Here are some steps you can take towards that heroic direction:
- If you are not already part of a local civic group or business organization, find one. If you can’t find one, form one.
- Encourage employees to volunteer in the community.
- Sponsor charitable events in the community.
- Partner with local high schools or community colleges to conduct job fairs, special training sessions or classes in entrepreneurship.
- Fund local scholarships and apprentice programs; offer internships.
- Adopt sustainable business practices.
- Promote the arts, fairs and other events that attract people to the community.
- Be a good community citizen.