Create the Community You Want to Live In

Posted on October 6, 2016

Paula Jensen
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By Paula Jensen, VP of Advancement Dakota Resources

Successful community collaboration is the process of achieving a sustainable economy through the shared values and expectations of its residents while generating benefits for its people, businesses, and visitors. The following steps can offer you a guide to help begin building the community you want to live in!

STEP 1: Form Core Leadership Groups

To successfully do any kind of community collaboration, a core leadership group representing the major assets of the community should be formed to lead the community transformation and economic development effort. The leadership group should be a diverse group, including employers, economic and workforce development professionals, city/county officials, healthcare, educational entities, small business, and others identified as leaders in the community. In addition to this core leadership group, other local residents can serve on established initiative groups to accomplish specific tasks needed to move the community forward, such as marketing, fundraising, housing, business, research, policy making, outreach, programming, and other identified needs.

STEP 2: Community Identity and Vision for the Community Economy

Developing a community identity, vision, and common message for community economic growth is critical to sustaining a competitive community. The vision is especially critical to driving new “community” behavior and is the benchmark when a community faces challenges. This vision is also the driver for community strategies and new investments, as well as alignment of current investments. Ultimately, a vision statement communicates both the purpose and values of the organization. For those who are part of the community collaboration work, it gives direction about how they are expected to behave and inspires them to give their best to promote advancement of the community. Shared with the community, a vision shapes understanding of why they should support the community economy.

STEP 3: Build Relationships

Today’s new rural economy is not just about goods or services located within our small towns. Prosperity in today’s rural economy depends heavily on our ability, both locally and regionally, to generate and apply the knowledge and innovation available in the areas of housing, community and economic development. Simply put, the right local and regional partners need to be at the table in order to achieve sustainable community collaboration and economic achievement. Leaders and partners who have access to critical information are some of your best decision makers, so invite them to your table.

To be successful with creating a community strategy, local leaders face a number of challenges that must be considered, such as:
• Designing a process of collaboration
• Dismantling invisible boundaries
• Changing a long-held mindset
• Defining new practical boundaries of the community
• Establishing a governance process
• Finding funding
• Developing a core message
• Creating shared community initiatives
• Making collective investment decisions
• Agreeing on clear goals and outcomes
• Determining how to evaluate and adjust the plan for future success

STEP 4: Identify the Community Economy

An economy is no longer defined by the political boundaries of a city, county, or state line. Community economies are formed around the assets of several contiguous communities. Assets can mean different things to different communities. A community should look at surrounding areas that have similar economic structures and identify the diverse assets of those communities.Community capital may include human and financial capital; research and development institutions; infrastructure; business and policy culture; industrial base; legal and regulatory environment; and others. Your local Planning Districts are experts at helping you begin identifying your community assets, industries, and economies.

STEP 5: Analysis of the Community

Once major community assets have been identified, a comprehensive analysis can be completed through SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), Community Capitals, Systems Thinking Framework, or any other similar approach. It may be helpful to find an outside facilitator to help the community move through this process. These tools can directly help the group create key priorities for development. The analysis should thoroughly consider a community’s attributes including existing industries, natural resources, current business climate, financial leveraging, and local demographics, such as educational attainment levels of workers in the community, commuting patterns, housing needs, etc. Additionally, communities should evaluate existing infrastructures (physical, virtual, transportation, political and educational) and cultural nuances (collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship) that will be critical to success.

STEP 6: Devise Strategies

Strategies for community economic development should be “SMART” – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and with a Timeline. A written plan should be created in order to leverage the developed strategies with future funders. In developing strategies that spur transformation, communities should focus on:

• Building innovation (through research & development and intellectual property formation)
• Bringing innovation to the existing economic markets
• Identifying new industries
• Developing new markets
• Creating new initiatives for capital creation
• Strengthening leadership pool
• Sustainability of current infrastructure

STEP 7: Leverage Resources

After a strategy is in place, the community should leverage resources from local residents, private businesses, nonprofits, and government sources in to sustain, diversify and support the common community economic development goals. These resources could be used to bolster housing, small businesses, promote sustainable entrepreneurship, and fund job-training programs.

STEP 8: Implementation

It may seem like it took a long time to get to this point, but by this time the core leadership and initiative groups are prepared to:

• Celebrate the success of community development
• Establish a legal structure for the community group, if desired
• Possibly hire a full-time staff member to carry out the established strategies and goals
• Put gathered funding and resources to work
• Market your strategies and educate the public
• Show success in any way you can!

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