Finding “Community”

In the current post-recession economy, competition is not only fierce, but it’s on a global scale, with communities wondering how they can attract and retain businesses and talent.  I recently came across an article that assessed a study by the nonprofit Community Builders based on a survey from over 1,000 business owners in the Rocky Mountain states.  There have been studies about the shifting nature of economic development, most of them focus on larger metro regions and bigger cities in the US.  This study, however, placed more emphasis on small and medium-sized communities in the West.  While the survey showed that more “traditional” approaches to economic development, such as tax policies and business incentives, played a big part in drawing Community treebusinesses to communities, there were a variety of other factors, mainly focused around community, that proved equally important in attracting businesses and workers.  Listed below are some of these factors:

The basic jist of the survey is that the best way to attract both businesses and talent is to have not only plenty of job opportunities, and businesses, but a strong sense of community.  A majority of people questioned in the survey (83 percent) said that they’d take a lower salary if it meant living in a nicer community.  44 percent of people felt that both a job and a community were necessary factors for relocating to a different place; compare that to 17 percent who just viewed job opportunities as the most important factor.

Most business owners don’t just come to a community with the explicit purpose of starting a business there; most of them (70 percent) have roots in the community before they actually open up a business.  For those who do end up establishing businesses, community character, an ability to attract capable employees.

While there was a lot of talk about “community”, what sort of factors tied in with that?  According to the survey, these included safety, open space, access to recreation, short commutes and neighborhood “character”.  Apart from community, housing costs were an extremely important factor, with 60 percent of business owners feeling that they played a significant factor in attracting employees.  Since a lot of the communities being reviewed in this survey came from smaller and medium-sized areas, where housing is most definitely cheaper than in places such as New York City or San Francisco, a surprising 68 percent of respondents felt there weren’t enough housing options for the range of incomes in the area, a dangerous percentile.

If communities that want to attract businesses and young talent, this survey indicates that they need to work on making their town or city an ideal place to not only work, but live as well.  But an ability to attract the specific kind of people that will form a great community is a lot easier said than done.  A small city in the Rocky Mountains can have plenty of open space, access to recreation and a ridiculously low cost of living, but that’s not all that will convince the people you need to move to an area.  Most of the people who these communities are trying to attract will be more attracted to bigger and more exciting urban centers, even if they are more expensive, because of the amenities and status that they boast.  As the trend towards urbanization, particularly among younger people, continues, fighting against that trend and bringing in newer businesses to smaller cities that will revitalize them can be difficult.