Adjusting to a Changing Economic Landscape

19 Aug

 Downtowns Innovate with Community Development Models

by Brad Segal, President, Progressive Urban Management Associates

The sluggish recovery to the recession is the most visible indicator that our pre-existing framework for economic development has changed.  Large companies profiting without job growth, the limited availability of credit and conservative consumption patterns are all converging to slow growth.

Despite these challenges, there are immediate opportunities to advance economic development for downtowns and neighborhood business districts.  A variety of community development approaches and tools that utilize local resources, some old and some new, are being mobilized to jump-start new businesses, jobs and investment.  By acting locally to advance development in the near term, downtowns and neighborhood business districts will be better positioned to capitalize on long-term trends that bode well for urban areas.

Looking at the big picture, the following trends support the long-term prosperity of downtowns and neighborhood business districts.

1)       Livability as a foundation of economic stability and growth. Livability is a multi-dimensional lifestyle concept applied to a place that has all of the attributes that are valued in vibrant urban areas: Quality affordable housing that is close to jobs or convenient transportation in an environment that is safe, clean, walkable and stimulating.  Livability also encompasses healthy lifestyles, including access to active recreation and fresh food.  During the recession, livable urban areas have held their value better than more one-dimensional suburban environments. 

2)       Bottom-up job growth strategies are here to stay.  Over the past generation, changes in technology and lifestyles elevated the importance of small businesses to advance local economies. The recession makes small business the only near-term opportunity for most communities.  Keys to successfully incubating small businesses include understanding local markets, identifying suitable space, mobilizing local capital and providing an array of support services.  Offering a stimulating and livable environment is critical to attracting innovative entrepreneurs. Ironically, the recession offers a great opportunity for local small business development efforts, as highly skilled unemployed people seek to redefine their careers and pursue entrepreneurial passions.

3)       Workers will be the new business location decision-makers.  While the near-term jobs outlook is dispiriting, long-term demographics anticipate a labor shortage in the not-too-distant future.  As older baby boomers retire there are simply less younger workers to replace them.  When the jobs imbalance hits, more value will be placed on the availability of workers and less on the preferences of top management.  Growing businesses will need to locate where highly skilled labor wants to live, work and play. 

While long term trends are favorable for downtowns, advancing economic development in the current economy demands using grassroots initiative to build local economies.  Traditional community development models are finding new life and applications in downtown and neighborhood business district settings.  At the DCI Conference in Glenwood Springs and in the Fall 2010 edition of the P.U.M.A. newsletter we’ll share examples that we have found particularly instructive.

Brad Segal is the president and founder of Progressive Urban Management Associates, a national leader in providing consulting services to advance downtown and community development. Brad will be speaking at DCI’s Annual Conference on Friday, September 24, at 7:30 am as a part of our Essential Community Responses to the New Economic Reality Speaker Series and will share his perspective on best downtown management responses in a difficult economy.

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