The ABCs of Economic Development for Small Towns

Mayors of just about all small towns are part-time individuals interested and willing to serve their communities. They do not get paid very much and most are not holders of college degrees in economic or community development. They learn quickly that there is a lot to learn about being the CEO of a small town.

One of the many resources for small town mayors to learn about economic development and other functions of local government is the Mississippi Municipal League, especially the League’s Annual Conference. There are dozens of educational opportunities for local officials at the event. One of the presentations that I make at the Conference is entitled “The ABC’s of Economic Development for Small Towns.”

After my most recent presentation a mayor of a small town pointed out that most mayors in Mississippi are not fortunate enough to attend the training because of lack of funds or because of scheduling conflicts. After all, most part-time mayors have other jobs. She also said that many business people would benefit from the presentation. So taking her que, here is an abbreviated version of the presentation for those unable to attend in person.

A  is for Asset-based economic development. Identify the assets in your community that you can capitalize on. These can range from natural interests to historic distinctions.

B is for Plan B. The best leaders are the ones who can manage Plan B. Many elected leaders go into office with big plans, only to find out that other priorities come first.

C is for CDBG, the Community Development Block Grant program. Administered by the Mississippi Development Authority, helps local units of government realize their potential by providing funds necessary to ensure basic community services, environmental quality and economic opportunities for their residents.

D is for Decisions, which tend to be data-driven or values-driven.

E is for Economy. What drives your town’s economy? Where does the money come from that comes into your community? Manufacturing? Tourism? Transfer payments? Out-of-towners passing through?

F is for Followers. You are the leader. Who’s following you – and what do they want?

G is for Goals, the mileposts along the highway to achieving the vision. Goals are SMART, the acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

H is for Heroes. Who is going to step forward when you need it the most?

I is for Incentives. Economic prospects are driven by location, workforce and incentives. In today’s economic development world incentives are more of a factor than ever.

J is for Jobs. Economic development is the process of increasing the wealth in your town through creation, recruitment and retention of JOBS.

K is for Keystone, the central, topmost stone of an arch (an essential part). Who or what is the keystone of your town? What’s holding it up, so to speak?

L is for Legacy. A lifetime of achievement is often reduced to one incident or program. What will be your legacy?

M is for Meetings, especially productive meetings – with board, with citizens, with developers and with prospects. Setting and controlling the agenda is controlling the meeting.

N is for Numbers, or measurements that will quantify your town’s progress. Decide what to things measure, and measure them regularly.

O is for Observation. “You can learn a lot by watching,” according to Yogi Berra. Stop looking for the answers you expect to find. Be objective.

P is for People, or demographics. Know and understand your people.

Q is for Quality. If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

R is for Responsibility. Most strategic plans fail because there is no accountability or responsibility. Hold people accountable.

S is for Story. What is your town’s story, and how can you capitalize on it?

T is for Taxes. Understand the source of taxes in your town and how they can be affected.

U is for Unique. What makes your town unique?

V is for Vision – your vision and your town’s vision. Are they the same?

W is for World View. How does globalization affect your town?

X  is for X-Ray. Have some outside expert look “into” your town.

Y is for Youth, the future of your town. What do they think about the future? Do you have a Mayor’s Youth Council?

Z is for Zeal, the synonym for passion. One big difference in towns that succeed and those that do not is passionate leadership.

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