10 Tips for Implementing an Economic Gardening Project (Revised and expanded April 2010)
Developing an economic gardening program in your community seems like the right way to go. What do you do next?
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Best practices and research on supporting entrepreneurship
Strengthen Your Local Economy through Economic Gardening
by Christine Hamilton-Pennell
This ICMA report describes the key elements of an economic gardening program, provides overall implementation considerations, examines the features of currently existing economic gardening models, and provides specific tips and strategies for implementing an economic gardening program at the local level.
Purchase this report through the ICMA bookstore
Read an excerpt (PDF)
Grow Your Own
Read the Stanford Social Innovation Review article, Winter 2010, "Grow Your Own: How Economic Gardening Nurtures Local Businesses," by Anne Stuhldreher. The article discusses the Littleton, Colorado Economic Gardening program and profiles Littleton company, ChurchPartner, which was able to grow its company through the services received.
Economic Gardening: Next Generation Applications for a Balanced Portfolio Approach to Economic Growth
The U.S. Small Business Administration devoted an entire chapter of its 2006 report, The Small Business Economy: Report to the President, to the benefits of economic gardening.
Competitive Intelligence for Small Businesses: Littleton's Economic Gardening Program
Read Christine's article from the December 2004 issue of Competitive Intelligence magazine.
Economic gardening is an entrepreneurial approach to economic development that seeks to grow the local economy from within. First pioneered in Littleton, Colorado in 1989, its premise is that local entrepreneurs create the companies that bring new wealth and economic growth to a region in the form of jobs, tax revenues, per capita income, and a vibrant local business sector. Economic gardening seeks to focus on growing and nurturing local businesses rather than hunting for "big game" outside the area.
Littleton's approach has resulted in a 71 percent increase in employment and a tripling of sales tax revenues (not adjusted for inflation) since 1989--a much higher rate than the region as a whole--while providing no incentives or tax breaks to recruit or attract outside businesses to the city.
What differentiates economic gardening from other entrepreneurship development strategies is its focus on providing market research and high-level technical assistance to small growth-oriented companies. The focus is on providing accurate, timely and relevant information to local entrepreneurs about key areas such as their competitors, customers, markets, and industry trends. Armed with this kind of information, a small business owner can make better strategic decisions, avoid costly mistakes, and successfully grow his or her enterprise. Market research is a discipline practiced by all Fortune 500 companies; economic gardening programs allow smaller companies to gain access to the same kind of tools and information and thus enjoy the same advantages as their larger counterparts.
Economic gardening strategies help local small businesses discover how to reach markets outside the region. In turn, these exporting growth-oriented companies can spur the formation of local business suppliers and service firms to support them. More and better-paid workers also increase the demand for local goods and services, recirculating wealth throughout the local and regional economy.
An effective economic gardening (EG) program needs to be built from the ground up--that is, from the local community level first. EG is a strategy that operates within a larger entrepreneurial development system that is unique to each community. It must be integrated into the formal and informal systems that are already in place within that community. Our white paper, 10 Tips for Implementing an Economic Gardening Project provides help for communities that want to explore an economic gardening in their locality. In addition, in partnership with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, we provide consulting and training services to assist communities in the exploration and implementation process.
Economic gardening programs currently operate in several locations around the country, and even in locations in Australia and Japan. U.S.-based economic gardening projects include statewide initiatives in Wyoming, Florida, Kansas, and Washington, as well as local and regional programs in Montana, Wisconsin, Portland (OR), and several other locations.