Economic Gardening: Mapping Fertile Gardens

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Minter, John
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The practice of economic development relies on many programs, initiatives and tools to guide communities to stability and prosperity. Peter Eisinger (1988) identified two major categories of economic development initiatives; the supply-side and the demand-side. Supply-side policy is focused on location attributes of the area, the practice of luring companies to relocate in the area, the focus of retaining existing companies, intense competition will all other jurisdictions to land established companies, and the focus on financial incentives to increase the appeal of the area. Demand-side economic development policy is more concerned with indigenous growth, a focus on new business formation and small business expansion, innovation and new capital, and the expansion or identification of new markets for local goods and services. (Eisinger, p. 12). Traditional economic development initiatives have demonstrated, “an almost exclusive reliance on supply-side location incentives to stimulate investment” (Eisinger, p.10). However, over the last few decades a small shift has taken place in economic development policy to acknowledge the power of demand-side policy. This shift has paved the way for more progressive initiatives. We currently live in the “new Economy,” a term coined by Time magazine in 1983 to describe our era in which information and technology are rapidly growing, increasing productivity so manufacturing plays les of a role in developed countries, and location of firms matters less because, as popularized by Thomas Friedman (2006), through globalization “3.0” the world has become flat. The effect on economic development policy is that companies are less influenced by location attributes so jurisdictions enter a bidding war of incentives to entice established company relocations. Incentives have, in some cases, reached $200,000 per job created, which casts into doubt whether winning such a bid would actually benefit a community (Barrios, p. 74). As recently as March 11, 2012, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran an article focused on the competiveness of Georgia’s economic development focus on business relocation attraction, and the poor long-term results associated with that tactic. Between 1994 and 2008, Georgia was the fourth most successful state in the race for recruiting companies, however only four percent of new jobs during that time span were the result of relocations, while ninety-six percent of new jobs originated from new startups, existing company expansions and local company spin-offs (Kanell, 2011). Economic Gardening (EG) is a progressive, broad-based, demand-side economic development tool focused on the internal strength and diversified economic base of a community. It is a long-term initiative, with established results in job creation, but EG programs are as diverse as the communities they serve. The term “economic gardening” was created as a metaphorical antithesis to the concept of chasing major company relocations or “big-game hunting” (Gibbons and Woods, 2010). A locality can chase the big thrill of landing a huge corporation relocation that surely presents a short-term increase in a locality’s jobs total, but the approach of EG argues that the continual watering, nurturing, and guiding the growth of small businesses within the community is a more sound economic development approach. The Edward Lowe Foundation cites EG as the basis for their entrepreneurship programs and is creating a national network for cities and states enacting EG initiatives. The Edward Lowe Foundation supports EG because the organization sees EG as a fourth dimension to local economic development; along with traditional economic development, workforce development and small-business development, communities should add “growth-company development” or Economic Gardening to the mix (Edward Lowe Foundation). This paper will serve as an analysis of best practices of EG initiatives, and by determining spatial aspects of successful EG programs, and identify areas likely to respond to EG initiatives. The format of this report will consist of a brief discussion of the fundamentals of Economic Gardening programs, followed by a case studies analysis of cities and states with EG initiatives, and finally an analysis of the State of Georgia and recommendations for a Georgia EG program.
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