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 – http://www.heartlandcenter.info/,
• SD Ag & Rural Leadership – http://sdarl.org/,
• Leadership South Dakota – http://leadershipsouthdakota.com/,
• SDSU Extension – http://igrow.org/community-development/communities/
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 census.gov. 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!