Small Town Economic Development

A rapidly changing economy means that places must adapt in order to prosper. Perhaps no place knows that better than small towns, where resiliency is key to survival. A new report from the U.S. EPA, “How Small Towns and Cities Can Use Local Assets to Rebuild Their Economies: Lessons from Successful Places,” profiles seven small towns, detailing how each transitioned away from declining industries into new economies. All took different approaches, but each community:

  • Identified and built on existing assets;
  • Engaged all members of the community to plan for the future;
  • Took advantage of outside funding;
  • Created incentives for redevelopment and encouraged investment in the community;
  • Encouraged cooperation within the community and across the region; and
  • Supported a clean and healthy environment.

One community profiled was Bend, Ore., which weathered economic stress through the decline of the lumber industry in the 1980s. Although it had some success attracting aviation companies, these employers also declined during the Great Recession. Bend pivoted to recruiting and supporting local microbrewing, biosciences, recreation equipment manufacturing, and technology companies, recognizing that these businesses have flexibility in where they locate and favor places with a high quality of life.

To make the town more attractive to these industries and others, Bend focused on downtown revitalization (which involved repurposing an abandoned mill into a mixed-use property) and promoted the region’s natural beauty. Through these efforts, Bend reduced employment from 16 percent in 2010 to 9.9 percent as of February 2014 and was recently deemed “the most entrepreneurial city in America” by Entrepreneur Magazine.

Reprint from International Economic Development Council.


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