Economic Gardening is not a new concept. Back in 1987, the City of Littleton, Colorado became the pioneers of this economic development practice, and since that time many other communities and states have adopted their own programs. In recent years, however, Convergent’s fundraising professionals have noticed more and more economic development organizations incorporating economic gardening into their strategic plans as a way to strengthen their communities and increase their funding opportunities. Why all of the sudden interest?
Jon Roberts, a principal at TIP Strategies, an economic development consulting firm, explains that, “From the time we went into the recession after 2008, the number of business expansions that economic development organizations could pursue fell off a cliff. The core activity of recruitment and relocation wasn’t there for most organizations any longer. This reality forced a rethinking of their goals. Like any business unable to attract many new clients, the focus shifted to existing customers.”
While the term “economic gardening” might be new to some of you, the basic goals and principals behind this concept surely are not. Essentially, economic gardening is a strategy that focuses more on growing existing businesses within a community, region, or state than recruiting new business. This growth-oriented focus allows development professionals to “take care of their existing clients” in a variety of ways. According to the Edward Lowe Foundation, the three basic elements of gardening include the following:
1) Providing critical information needed by businesses to survive and thrive.
2) Developing and cultivating 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) Developing 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.
It is easy to agree that the elements listed above are goals worthy of any economic development organization’s time, energy, and funding, but is economic gardening truly a good match for your community? This is a question that every economic development organization must carefully consider before pursuing a gardening strategy.