Economic gardening focuses on entreprenuer
The Jamestown Sun In today's economic climate, it's entrepreneurs who take a community from survival into prosperity, a Colorado business expert said. Chris Gibbons, director of the Littleton, Colo., Business/Industry Affairs Department, said in ...
The Jamestown Sun
In today's economic climate, it's entrepreneurs who take a community from survival into prosperity, a Colorado business expert said.
Chris Gibbons, director of the Littleton, Colo., Business/Industry Affairs Department, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that all wealth is created by entrepreneurs. He said the economic development choice for any community is whether to grow its own entrepreneurs or try to attract some other community's entrepreneurs, because that's where the jobs are.
"For all of us, either you have a business or you work for a business, so you always need entrepreneurs," Gibbons said. "Entrepreneurs are keeping us all alive and they can save a community."
The city of Littleton believed its future depended so much on its local entrepreneurs that it created Gibbons' department 20 years ago. Through the years, Gibbons began calling his approach to economic development "Economic Gardening." And as with gardening the focus is on growth.
"It's a healthier way to build the economy. Local entrepreneurs participate in the community," he said. "You're not wasting your resources."
As with most communities, 20 years ago Littleton used its economic development funding to convince companies to move in and keep companies from moving out, he said. At the time, the city was already coping with the layoff of 7,000 employees of a large aerospace company. It was then that the City Council decided that focusing on movement rather than growth wasn't the best use of taxpayer money.
"It takes years to put all the EG elements in place to make a community a nurturing environment for entrepreneurs," Gibbons said. "But once it is in place, it's very difficult to take the local economy down."
He said focusing on the movement of companies in or out is even less viable today than it was 20 years ago, particularly in rural areas. It's a global economy, Gibbons said, so the jobs rural communities used to be able to recruit by offering companies low-wage employees are going out of the country.
"It's hard to recruit companies into rural areas now," he said. "So there are no alternatives left out there and communities are drying up as resources are overused."
Economic gardening is about growing local economies by nurturing start-up and existing entrepreneurial businesses, he said. Essentially, Gibbons said, his department has created and fine-tuned high-end tools that help the entrepreneur succeed.
"At least 80 percent of our time is at the front end," he said. "You have to have a market and you must reach that market. And you need the right team to make the product."
Littleton has also moved away from the lower-paying jobs with its economic gardening, said a local economic development official.
"I'm excited about what Littleton does and how they do it," said Eric Hoberg, executive director of the South Central Dakota Regional Council and Small Business Development Center consultant. "They're out of the commodity business and into the high technology business."
Hoberg said the Regional Council and SBDC staff are researching ways to use the economic gardening concept. He particularly wants the software developed by Gibbons' department. The software includes data sets for target marketing and a variety of associated information.
"It takes the guesswork out of the consulting we do," Hoberg said. "We're looking at taking our services to a higher level locally and at the state level."
Along with Hoberg, Christina Wiederrich, resource development specialist for the Jamestown/ Stutsman Development Corp., met Gibbons when he presented a seminar at the Economic Development Association summer conference in June.
Wiederrich believes the community already harbors a large number of potential entrepreneurs. She, too, would like to see economic gardening used to uncover and nurture them, regardless of whether they're primary sector.
"We need to become inventors rather than consumers," she said.
And with the lack of a work force, becoming an entrepreneur-friendly community may be the only way to grow.
"It's obvious we're going to have to go in this direction," said JSDC Chief Executive Officer Connie Ova.