Seriously, we’ve been saying this for at least a decade — and our local governing elites still can’t grasp it.
To be sure, occasional one-off gestures of assistance and glimmers of understanding occur, but the bulk of old-think in terms of economic development continues to be showering the Sazeracs and HWC Engineerings of the world with largess even as indies chalk up the bulk of the worthwhile investment.
The time is coming when the idea of an independent business association seems ideally poised to make a comeback. More on this later. Until then, a quick review of the evidence.
Small Businesses Can Save Your Community, by Quint Studer (Strong Towns)
Quint Studer is a Strong Towns member, a resident of Pensacola, Florida, and the author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America. Today he is sharing a guest article on the benefits of a thriving small business community.
It’s an exciting time for small and midsize towns and cities. All across America, community leaders are on fire to find solutions for the challenges the past couple of decades have brought. They’re seeking new ways to spark growth, to keep young people from moving away, and to revitalize half-vacant downtowns.
One of the best and most powerful approaches is to deliberately nurture and grow their small business communities.
Small businesses can be underappreciated and under-supported, and that’s a shame. After all, when a downtown is filled with cool coffee shops, locally owned restaurants, microbreweries, and quirky boutiques—together with plenty of strong non-retail players like architects, ad agencies, and attorneys—that downtown is often the heart and soul of a vibrant community.
A strong small business presence—especially one that thrives in the context of a busy, livable, walkable downtown—is what gives a community its character. It creates that sense of “place” that attracts tourists, young people and empty nesters (increasing numbers of both groups want to live downtown), a talented workforce, and yes, bigger businesses and other investors who drive further growth.
I can’t say enough about how crucial small business is to economic health—and now more than ever before. Over the past few decades, most communities have had their “pillars” pulled out from under them. Big institutions like banks, hospitals, and newspapers used to be locally owned. Their owners lived and worked in the same place. Their children went to the local schools. As a consequence, their leaders were deeply invested in the community and worked hard to keep it vibrant.
But over the years, large corporations have bought up many of these pillar institutions and consolidated them. It’s now common for the owners of these organizations to live elsewhere, often in bigger cities where corporate headquarters are located. Smaller communities no longer have the benefit of business leaders with a deep personal connection to the place.
This is a natural part of change. And all change brings opportunities along with losses.
One big opportunity has landed at the feet of small business owners. They have a chance to step into the vacuum that was created when the old pillars fell. Not only can they keep their communities strong, they can help shape those communities’ futures. When small business owners work toward the goal of creating vibrant places, they benefit by increasing their communities’ overall economic health.
Let’s take a quick look at why small businesses are so important to communities …