Small Towns Big Ideas - Case Studies in Small Town Community Economic Development, Will Lamb, December 2008; Published by University of North Carolina School of Government and Rural Economic Development Center; 256 pages; http://ncruralcenter.org/images/PDFs/Publications/stbigideasi.pdf

This collection of case studies documents strategies that small communities in different circumstances have employed to improve the quality of life for their residents. Since this was published by the University of North Carolina, most of the case studies are from southern communities. However, there are also a number from northern states such as Minnesota, Iowa, Oregon and Ohio. The document is well organized and well written with an emphasis on describing strategies to fit small communiites in varying geographical circumstances such as proximity to metropolitan areas or proximity to natural assets.

The authors were able to identify a number of "lessons learned" from the case studies. Those are:

  • In small towns, community development is economic development - community capacity building produces economic outcomes; successful communities balance long-term comprehensive community goals with short-term economic gains.
  • Small towns with the most dramatic outcomes tend to be proactive and future-oriented; they embrace change and assume risk - these are characteristics of leaders as much as they are of the community.
  • Successful community economic development strategies are guided by a broadly held local vision - organizations and leaders taking shared responsibility for being public, transparent and reaching out to citizens to encourage involvement and engagement in developing ideas and implementing them.
  • Defining assets and opportunities broadly can yield innovative strategies that capitalize on a community’s competitive advantage - in many cases communities were able to turn what had been a broadly viewed liability into an asset that generated jobs and income.
  • Innovative local governance, partnerships and organizations significantly enhance the capacity for community economic development - thinking creatively about organizational structure, cross-jurisdictional municipal partnerships, public-private partnerships and leaders who engage with higher-level policy-makers are important elements in many of the successful case studies.
  • Effective communities identify, measure and celebrate short-term successes to sustain support for long-term community economic development.
  • Viable community economic development involves the use of a comprehensive package of strategies and tools rather than a piecemeal approach - there is no silver bullet, no single strategy, no "one thing" that a community can do to achieve success - it takes multiple strategies applied over a period of time to be successful.
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