Community Economic Development Blueprint | Create the Community You Want to Live In

Successful community collaboration is the process of achieving a sustainable economy through shared values and expectations while generating benefits for the people, businesses, and visitors in a defined community. The following steps can help you start building the community you want to live in!

STEP 1: Build Relationships
Today’s new rural economy is not just about goods or services located within our small town. Prosperity in today’s rural economy depends heavily on our ability, both locally and regionally, to generate and apply the knowledge and innovation available in the areas of housing, community and economic development. Simply put, the right local and regional partners need to be at the table in order to achieve sustainable community collaboration and economic achievement. Leaders and partners who have access to critical information are some of your best decision makers, so invite them to your table. To be successful with a community strategy, local leaders face a number of challenges:

• Designing a process of collaboration,
• Dismantling invisible boundaries,
• Changing a long-held mindset,
• Defining new practical boundaries of the community,
• Establishing a governance process,
• Finding funding,
• Developing a core message,
• Creating shared community initiatives,
• Making collective investment decisions,
• Agreeing on clear goals and outcomes, and
• Determining how to evaluate and adjust the plan for future success.

Start the process by gathering a small group that is passionate about your community, meet on a regular basis, start going through the steps of developing community economic development, and add innovative partners as you go. During the early stages of planning is when a local leadership training course could be held to build a strong foundation for future success. Support for leadership development can also be found at:

• Heartland Center –,
• SD Ag & Rural Leadership –,
• Leadership South Dakota –,
• SDSU Extension –

STEP 2: Identify the Community Economy
An economy is no longer defined by the political boundaries of a city, county, or state line. Community economies are formed around the assets of several contiguous communities. Assets can mean different things to different communities. A community should look at surrounding areas that have similar economic structures and identify the diverse assets of those communities. Assets include human and financial capital; research and development institutions; infrastructure; business and policy culture; industrial base; legal and regulatory environment; and others. Below are some resources to help you begin identifying your community assets, industries, and economies:

United States Census Bureau –Try this easy and accurate online resource from Your local Department of Labor or State office of economic development can also help you determine human capital and workforce trends.
Asset Mapping Roadmap Guide – Find information about asset mapping, and the links to several asset mapping tools.
• Cooperative Extension Service: Effective Alignment of Community Development and Higher Education Contact your local extension service to see what services they may already be providing that can guide you through community economic development.
USDA Rural Development Office Locator – USDA Rural Development provides funding to rural communities for housing, clean water, hospitals, clinics, community centers, day-care facilities, first responder needs, business development, economic development, job creation and other essential community infrastructure.
Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LED Industry Focus) – This tool analyzes a collected set of industry sector and workforce measures.
• Occupation and Industry Profile – Find national and state occupation information profiles.
Salary Tool – This provides national and state occupation salary information.
U.S. Department of Commerce – Bureau of Economic Analysis – BEA produces economic accounts statistics that enable government and business decision-makers, researchers, and the American public to follow and understand the performance of the Nation’s economy.
South Dakota Dashboard – The South Dakota Dashboard is an online community information service that provides people with reliable, up-to-date trend data on South Dakota. They seek to provide citizens and community leaders with statewide and local data and statistics for decision-making, with the goal of enhancing the quality of life in our communities.
STEP 3: Analysis of the Community
Once major community assets have been identified, a comprehensive analysis can be completed through SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), Community Capitals, Systems Thinking Framework, or any other similar approach. It may be helpful to find an outside facilitator to help the community move through this process. These tools can directly help the group create key priorities for development. The analysis should thoroughly consider a community’s attributes including existing industries, natural resources, current business climate, financial leveraging, and local demographics, such as educational attainment levels of workers in the community, commuting patterns, housing needs, etc. Additionally, communities should evaluate existing infrastructures (physical, virtual, transportation, political and educational) and cultural nuances (collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship) that will be critical to success.
STEP 4: Form Core Leadership Groups
After a community identity and assets are defined, a core leadership group representing the major assets of the community should be formed to lead the community transformation and economic development effort. The leadership group should include employers, economic and workforce development professionals, state and local governments, foundations, healthcare, educational entities and others identified in the relationship building phase. Other local leaders could now serve on established advisory committees to accomplish specific tasks needed to move the community group forward, such as marketing, fundraising, research, policy making, outreach, programming, and other identified tools.

STEP 5: Community Identity and Vision for the Community Economy
Developing a community identity, vision, and common message for community economic growth is critical to sustaining a competitive community. The vision is especially critical to driving new “community” behavior and is the benchmark when a community faces challenges. This vision is also the driver for community strategies and new investments, as well as alignment of current investments. Ultimately, a vision statement communicates both the purpose and values of the organization. For those who are part of the organization it gives direction about how they are expected to behave and inspires them to give their best to promote advancement of the community. Shared with the community, a vision shapes understanding of why they should support the community economy.
STEP 6: Devise Strategies
Strategies for community economic development should be “SMART” – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and with a Timeline. A written plan should be created in order to leverage the developed strategies with future funders. In developing strategies that spur transformation, communities should focus on:

• Building innovation (through research & development and intellectual property formation)
• Bringing innovation to the existing economic markets
• Identifying new industries
• Developing new markets
• Creating new initiatives for capital creation
• Strengthening leadership pool
• Sustainability of current infrastructure

STEP 7: Leverage Resources
After a strategy is in place, the community should leverage resources from local residents, private businesses, nonprofits, and government sources in to sustain, diversify and support the common community economic development goals. These resources could be used to bolster small businesses, promote sustainable entrepreneurship, and fund job-training programs.

STEP 8: Implementation
It may seem like it took a long time to get to this point, but by this time the core leadership and advisory committees are prepared to:

• Celebrating the success of community development
• Establish a legal structure for the community group, if desired
• Possibly hire a full-time staff member to carry out the established strategies and goals
• Put gathered funding and resources to work
• Market your strategies and educate the public
• Show success in any way you can!


Top 10 Community Economic Development Actions for South Dakota Rural Communities

Below is a list of action items that communities should add to their ‘to-do’ lists in order to lead you toward community sustainability, community involvement, and community growth:

  1. Promote your community every chance you get by updating your web page and social media channels with local news, highlights, causes, calls-to-action, history, events, and successes. In today’s web-based society, every community should be online and have up-to-date information.  In many cases this is an easy and free process.  Click here.
  2. Recognize the importance of the local library and identify it as a “third space | a social environment separate from home and the workplace”.  The local library should be an information sharing facility that can help existing small businesses, entrepreneurs, and youth.  If you library needs support or funding check out the SD State Library.
  3. Work with your board of directors and staff to bring more partners, both public and private, into your local economic development process.
  4. Educate your elected officials and your board that economic development is also about creating healthy sustainable communities, a task which takes time, and it is not just about creating immediate jobs, but instead creating a quality of life. Create an easy to read infographic or presentation that describes your vision of a healthy sustainable community.
  5. Participate in high school activities, such as a career day, to inform them that economic development is an important and valued profession in the community. The Grant County Development Corporation has created a great template for career day activities that could be replicated in your town. Email Bobbie Bohlen
  6. Identify talent already in your community and actively work to retain them to continue to live and work there.  In order for rural regions to retain, attract, and grow talent there are several strategies. Read about those strategies in this report.
  7. Introduce entrepreneurship to high schools through ideation activities and business plan competitions, such as the BIG Idea Competition and other events.
  8. Encourage and support the creative arts and remind others through presentations and events that broad based participation in successful cultural activities is one of the primary drivers for people deciding to relocate their businesses or to come visit and spend money.  Consider creating a local arts council with the support from the SD Arts Council.
  9. Improve the looks of your downtown with the simple things like flowers and benches and festivals and cultural celebrations. Most improvements are simple and inexpensive. A healthy downtown usually means a healthy community. The Webster community has worked with design|SD to improve their Main Street.
  10. Produce a list of regional assets, resources, events, and hidden gems and promote them internally and externally. Train your residents to be the local tour guide for relatives and guests of the community. Every business, household and web page should have good information and be a concierge desk for people interested in your community.  Our regional tourism offices offer great resources and opportunities to feature our communities and regional activities.  Get to know your local tourism representative.

What will Your Obituary Say?

When I graduated from Langford High School in 1985, we invited a previous Langford Pastor, Ed Gilbertson, to give the commencement address at my graduation ceremony. As I sat in the front row of chairs the evening of May 16, 1985 eagerly anticipating my diploma, I heard these words come from Pastor Gilbertson’s mouth, “What will Your Obituary Say?” I was startled by those words as a 17 year old high school graduate, but I settled in for a life lesson that changed me that day and one I obviously have not ever forgotten.

I recently read a story that refreshed my thoughts about Pastor Ed Gilbertson’s commencement address to the LHS Class of 1985. The story was about Alfred Nobel, a Swedish gentleman who lived from 1833 to 1896. Mr. Nobel’s initial claim to fame was as the inventor and mass producer of explosives, including dynamite. His story might have ended there except for a premature obituary. When Alfred Nobel’s brother passed away, the new media mistakenly ran an obituary on Alfred Nobel, not his brother. His obituary stated, “Alfred Nobel was a man who had made it possible to kill more people, more quickly than anyone else who had ever lived.” This was not a statement Alfred Nobel wanted to be remembered for! Mr. Nobel had the advantage of previewing his own obituary when it was mistakenly run upon his brother’s death and he knew he didn’t like it. So, he took action.

Today, relatively few people know of Alfred Nobel as the inventor of dynamite. However, he will forever be known as the creator of the Nobel Peace Prize and Nobel prizes for literature, economics, medicine, and the sciences. Mr. Nobel took action after reading his own obituary and changed his lasting legacy 180 degrees. He had the opportunity to rewrite his own history. You and I can join Alfred Nobel by becoming aware of the fact that we are daily writing our own obituaries, and if we don’t like the first draft, we can edit it before it goes to the final press.

There are some people whose legacy extends worldwide through the way they have impacted society. There are some individuals, like Pastor Ed Gilbertson, who impact only a handful of people, but their impact is felt at a core level. Each of us can change the world and leave a powerful legacy either way. There are teachers, pastors, coaches, bosses, community leaders, and mentors whose names history will never record but whose legacies will endure as long as thoughts or discussions of greatness exist. Begin writing your own obituary today while you can still make a difference.