Municipal Economic Development for Small Communities
Posted on by Bob Santy
Recently we’ve been out doing a lot of our municipal trainings - you know we’ve done about 90 of the trainings over the last three years - and we’re up to about half of Connecticut’s communities that have hopefully benefitted from the work we’re doing out there.
Just recently we were in a very small town - one of the smallest we’ve done with a population of about 1,700 people. A lot of the questions that came up were, “can we really do economic development when we’re so small?” Of course, we adjust what we say to communities of that size, but our answer is absolutely yes. It has got to be a very intentional activity, economic development, and it can be done by small communities as well as large, but you have to adapt what you are going to do.
What are some of the things that get in the way of small communities doing economic development? Well, they may not have the infrastructure that the larger communities do, whether that be roads and sidewalks or water and sewer, so that does limit your opportunities. But you have to take that into account when you think about what it is that you are going to do. You may not have the staff. Most small communities have no one doing economic development except the very dedicated volunteers on the economic development commissions, and some of them don’t have planners as well, which is very critical to good economic development.
Think about the things that are strong in your community and that are part of the character of your community. If these are rural communities, agriculture can be a big part of it. Farm to table businesses are a possibility, equestrian related activities are possibilities in your community, and services that people need no matter where they are - barber shops, pet grooming and boarding as an example. Everybody needs those services and even though the markets are smaller, you probably have a critical mass of people to use those services.
So get to know the businesses that are already in your town. That is a good place to start. Make sure they are happy with what is going on in town.
Maybe you decide to market one parcel and figure out what parcel it is that should be developed and meet with commercial brokers to make them aware of that parcel.
These are just some ideas, but I want to make sure people understand that no matter how small a community, its important to have a strategic approach to economic development, a very intentional approach to growing your local economy.
Before I let you go, I do want to remind everybody that CELEBRATE CT! is next Wednesday, December 5th. We hope to see you all there and we wish you a very happy holiday season.