Economic strategy puts focus on quality of place

Recently, the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University released a study highlighting the need for economic development efforts to focus on attracting people first and businesses second in the modern economy.

During my tenure as mayor of the city of Greenwood, we have begun moving in this direction, implementing a more placed-based, quality-of-life strategy for economic development supported by the study’s findings.

Specifically, the study notes that too much emphasis has been placed by local governments on attracting “footloose” firms -– large companies that can choose where to locate without concern for local demand for their goods or services –- given that the supply of such firms has dwindled in past decades.

Instead, the study argues that local municipalities should focus on attracting and retaining human capital -– that people come first and jobs follow.

The city of Greenwood has focused its economic development efforts in recent years on just such projects -– investing in infrastructure and quality-of-place initiatives to attract and retain human capital while making Greenwood a more attractive place to live and grow a business.

Such strategies not only result in increased economic development opportunities but also provide positive externalities for other taxing entities in the form of higher-end residential development and a more educated workforce.

Improving a city’s infrastructure, aesthetic appeal and quality of life amenities allows for the attraction of both people and businesses, and the best economic development approach is one that seeks to meet the important needs of each.

Economic development projects undertaken by Greenwood in recent years with these goals in mind include: the revitalization of downtown through façade improvements, the purchase and renovation of a new City Center building and connectivity improvements; investments in trails; the construction of Freedom Springs Aquatic Park; partnership with a local high school to increase wi-fi capabilities in all classrooms; and road and traffic improvements to ease congestion and cut down on commuting times.

Studies such as this demonstrate strong support for Greenwood’s local economic development strategy. In improving quality of place, our city enables itself to attract and retain a highly skilled, educated workforce, a major factor that businesses consider in relocating or growing their business.

By becoming a more attractive place to live and work, Greenwood is creating an atmosphere that will foster long-term, sustainable economic growth for decades to come.

Michael J. Hicks is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and an associate professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.