Monday, August 1, 2011

Economic Gardening 101

The term economic gardening has gained steam in recent months.  A few months ago when I heard the term for the umpteenth time, I assumed the phrase was simply a PR person's creative way to refer to the age-old approach of helping start-up companies grow in a community. 

That's mostly wrong.

The Edward Lowe Foundation helped me get it straight so I'm sharing what I learned.  Economic gardening is getting real definition from the folks at Lowe.  I think there's a good mix of strategy and common sense in economic gardening.

Here's the premise:

Job growth comes from existing companies that are rooted in a community but selling outside.

I don't want to steal Mark Lange's thunder as they are poised to go national with some of their easy-to-understand stats to better put definition to the value of focusing on economic gardening, but the concept is that real job creation in this country occurs with small businesses that fit Lowes' definition.

The concept is based on classifying existing companies in a local economy as resident or non-resident and as doing business in an internal or external market.

A non-resident, internal market company, for example, would be your local Walmart.  They're headquartered elsewhere and their local location is selling within the local marketplace.

Much economic development and many of our industrial park developers are focused on non-resident, external market companies--companies headquartered somewhere else which chose a local plant and a local commerce park as a place of business.  However, the non-resident part makes them less stable in a tough economy and harder to sustain in a highly-competitive economic environment.

Economic gardening focuses, totally, on the resident, external market companies.  Lowe calls it growth company development.  The focus is also just on existing companies, not start-ups.

Mark Lange's shop has made it their job to share the strategic, extraordinary efforts that communities can undertake to help these types of companies grow.  Access to market research and peer learning are two key components. 

The Lowe-funded National Center for Economic Gardening has a video from one of the originators and still-present collaborators on this concept. is one example of a state-led effort to apply the principals the Lowe Foundation espouses.  In March 2011, Florida was the first state to obtain certification from the Lowe Foundation's Economic Gardening Certification program.

Who's next?

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