I have been involved with rural economic development from all angles. I grew up in a small, family business. I researched and wrote extensively about economic development throughout my college education. I worked on the ground, promoting economic development in Washington County through the Americorps VISTA program. We identified needs, assisted businesses, and trained entrepreneurs looking to found and grow their enterprises. I have also served on multiple city councils as we have found ways to encourage business growth while not ‘getting in the way’ with unnecessary bureaucracy.
Through all of these experiences, I have determined the best form of economic development is that which we grow ourselves from within: entrepreneurship. We can chase our tails and wage war against neighboring states to attract outsiders, or we can foster our own strong ideas. We should endeavor to get more Dave Smercheks, Don Landolls, and allow the businesses that support them to thrive.
There must be a balance between new and relocating operations, but we spend far too much time enticing outsiders and too little asking our businesspeople: “What can we do to help you grow”.