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What is next in the realm of Community and Economic Development?

Avatar photo by Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator | May 14, 2021

During the National Main Street Conference, we had the opportunity to listen to a variety of different speakers and researchers tracking changes in community and economic development cultures. Understanding those changes can enhance businesses ability to grow, and communities that embrace and anticipate changes can enhance their local economies.
Amy Lui, the Vice President and Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, presented some emerging trends that were backed by peer reviewed data. The following bullet points are things we should both track and aspire to locally if we hope to capitalize on the behaviors studied by Brookings.

  1. Both residential and business developments are prioritizing dense walkable neighborhoods with like nodes.- Density creates energy, a sense of community, and walkable neighborhoods enhance communication and visibility. As developments continue to mix uses, transportation styles change, and lifestyle preferences among youth continue to shift, the need to enhance density and walkability will remain a high priority for communities that want to evolve.
  2. There will be a substantial decrease in the need for massive office space based buildings.- Some people really like working from home. Big businesses no longer need a massive office space. Smaller flexible spaces are needed, but large scale office complexes will need to be repurposed.
  3. Vehicle ownership will decline over time.- We can see the “shared economy” in several higher priced consumer items.- The desire to share ownership in vehicles is still a ways off in the Midwest, but we do see people that gravitate towards upper story housing that allows them to live, work, shop, and be entertained within a walkable area. Communities that want to attract residents and maximize property values need to consider future trends when planning resource allocations.
  4. People are understanding the impact of commute times, and are looking for areas that maximize free time.- It is a rare person that wants to commute and hour to and from work on a daily basis. That two hours a day, five days a week, over fifty working weeks (for most jobs) per year equals five hundred hours of your life lost per year. A lot of people are realizing how much more life they can live, family time they can enjoy, or activities they can participate in by living in areas with limited commute times.

In addition to aforementioned trends, discussion points both inside sessions and through side chats highlighted tools that communities should develop to enhance viability. These tools include:

  1. Development of community trusts and other local investing mechanisms to enhance entrepreneurship through shared investment and risk capital.– No firm outside of your region will truly understand the best interests of the community. They do their job and leave. Developing robust investment mechanisms locally allows projects to get done, businesses to start/grow, wealth to develop, and communities to improve sustainably. It is critical for communities to develop the right type of investment conduits and to promote “deal flow” (creating a steady stream of investment opportunities as opposed to one every six months) to enhance investment opportunities.
  2. Wrapping skills training around broadband capacity.- For broadband to truly enhance the economy of a community, business development should prioritize business types that utilize broadband. Data centers, firms that specialize in activities that routinely push large files, interactive services that require robust connections should be within the development playbook of communities that want to maximize the value of redundant broadband.
  3. Understanding that expectations of employees, particularly in the area of planned time off, have shifted.- We have a generation in the workforce that had every moment of their day planned growing up, and they don’t generally appreciate unpredictability in scheduling. Things happen, but businesses that can provide consistent scheduling that maximizes employee free time will have the opportunity to attract and retain better quality employees.
  4. Consumers and workers have more access to information than ever, and they use that access to their benefit.- Consumers want to know what your products and services are, how much they cost, what your hours are, and exactly how to interact with your business through an online portal prior to setting foot in your physical location. If the information consumers seek is incorrect or incomplete, the ensuing frustration can result in a lost customer. Employees know how much other employees are paid (and their benefits) within your organization, and they also know how much employees are paid (and their benefits) among competitors. Through online chats, they can determine your business culture, turnover, and generally whether your business is a good place to work or not. People aren’t widgets that can be plugged into a production equation, and businesses that know how to enhance their work environment to meet the needs of their employees will attract and retain better employees.
  5. Communities must understand who is moving to a community and why, who rejects moving to a community and their reasoning, why people are leaving a community, and what can realistically be done to efficiently attract your target audience.- If someone prefers large metropolitan areas, they simply won’t be happy in rural communities. There isn’t much we can do about that. However, we need to have a good understanding of why people are choosing the community, and whether the people we are attracting meet the needs of our business community and future development opportunities.
  6. Communities must understand their competitive advantages within their region, and maximize those advantages while continuously diversifying their economy.- The worst thing a community can do is attempt to be just like other communities within driving distance. Maximizing positive differences can help your community stand out (in a good way). That doesn’t mean that communities can be just one thing. Diversity within the economy, events, and opportunities is smart. Constantly taking today’s resources to enhance tomorrow’s opportunities can lead to sustained growth.
  7. The demographics of the United States are shifting, and thought processes are evolving.- States, regions, and communities that welcome people will grow. Those that do not welcome people will shrink. This should be obvious, but people want to live in an area where they feel welcomed. Younger generations in particular don’t gravitate towards areas where people aren’t accepting of them, their culture, or their lifestyle. Being nice is probably the most inexpensive way a community can attract and retain people, and it just happens to align with one of our general community strengths.

As you continue your involvement with groups like Emporia Main Street, are you helping ensure that we can take advantage of the tools and strategies listed above? How can your business adapt to changing trends? Will you use your voice to ensure we are growing in ways that intersect with newer generational expectations?

About the Author

Jessica Buchholz, Events Coordinator

Jessica Buchholz is the Community Development Coordinator for Emporia Main Street in Emporia, Kansas. She specializes in event planning, volunteer recruitment, alternative marketing, media/public relations and fundraising. During Jessica's tenure at Emporia Main Street, she has helped grow events to an international level and she has created a series of new activities to meet organizational goals.