By Cheryl Scandale Murnin, LEED, AP
Economic development seeks to improve the wellbeing and quality of life in a community by creating, and then retaining jobs with the goal of growing incomes and the tax base. The broader the tax base, the lower the tax burden per capita, and the more conducive to growth is a community.
The ability to accomplish these base activities addresses both the health of a community, and the productivity of the business climate. There is always room for improvement. Businesses, during the site selection phase seek communities with transparent governance, high quality of life, an equitable, modern taxing structure and an opportunity to become involved in the community. Economic and community development is successful fostering business when it creates sustained growth. Sustained growth can be accomplished through leadership in good, forward-looking policy making, and through thoughtful policy administration. A strong, pro-growth business environment supported by a high quality of life occurs when both good policy making and administration happen equally on a regular basis.
Sophisticated business leaders seek communities that demonstrate a long-term commitment to place-based economic development because it illustrates that community understands how important the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit is. A place-based strategy leverages a community’s amenities to increase economic progress; it ties jobs directly to specific places helping to prevent global outsourcing.
Three things must happen in order to make this strategy work.
First, the old corruptions of governments and policy makers must be mitigated; that speaks to profits. A corrupt and inept elected class and tax structure is an obstacle to business profits and healthy job growth.
Second, the reluctance of mainstream acceptance of environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility must be outgrown; that speaks to planet. High-performing companies have already made a commitment to reporting their considerable investment in environmental stewardship successes, and they don’t want to locate in a community that creates obstacles to protecting natural resources.
Third, companies seek communities that support a high quality of life beyond just basic amenities; that speaks to people. Companies seek highly educated, highly skilled professionals for management positions, and high performing managers’ families anticipate a robust cultural, educational and recreational place to live and work.
Sustainable, placed-based economic development differs from conventional economic development because the emphasis is on building upon existing community assets and growing the economic impact of businesses rather than simply pursuing jobs by creating tax break packages used by local governments to lure and poach companies from another community.
Recognizing the synergies between the three elements of the triple bottom line, and community assets can make a community very attractive to a site-selection team. Creating a successful development strategy requires the efforts of multiple stakeholders coming together around a common goal in order to attract a team that will bring diverse, high-paying wages. Warehouse jobs are fine, however innovations in technology have reduced the number of workers actually needed to accomplish tasks at each facility.
Renowned urban planner and Scranton native Jane Jacobs suggests that the healthiest communities enjoy a vast diversity of business types, and diversity of thought is the thing that now attracts the most forward-leaning, high-paying employers. That means the old way of thinking which aims to preserve the status quo creates an environment that is not conducive to economic growth. Enhancing fiscal responsibility of policymakers and increasing transparency goes a long way to empower current community members and stakeholders to take the risk of creating new home-grown business activity and jobs from current community assets.
Cheryl Scandale-Murnin, LEED, AP, is an adjunct faculty member in the School of Business and Global Innovation at Marywood University. As a LEED AP, she is an Accredited Professional in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, demonstrating a high level of professional expertise in issues of sustainability. She served both as a former vice president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce and member of the Small Business Advisory Board of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.