There’s been much discussion about our “Economic Development Toolbox” in Northfield over the past few months. Some of the conversations have been tied to trying to develop a business park on the land to be annexed from Greenvale Township, some of the references have been related to strengthening our existing businesses, and some of the discussions have focused on making Northfield more “business-friendly” in general.
Personally, I’d say, “all of the above”. In my mind, an economic development toolbox is a community’s package of programs that support existing, expanding, or recruiting businesses.
However, it’s not just the programs. During the second and third “summits” on in-fill and redevelopment that the NDDC held, with the support of the EDA, local developers, representing the private sector, noted that it’s not merely providing programs that facilitate economic development, it also involves removing obstacles. Therefore, enhancing your economic development toolbox would include both adding needed programs and removing unnecessary obstacles.
Adding programs and removing obstacles was clearly on the minds of many of the people attending our recent series of summits. Twenty-six of the one hundred ideas generated to promote in-fill development and redevelopment projects were related to this “strategy” of toolbox review and enhancement.
I did a bit of research on this subject last year. I participated in a webinar produced by the National Trust’s Main Street Program called “Business Recruitment and Retention: Two Sides of the Same Coin” and attended a conference organized by the Local Initiative Support Corporation that included a session titled “Neighborhood Change and Retail Recruitment Strategies”. Both experiences offered a list of potential tools for economic development.
The Retention Initiatives included Relocation Assistance, Debt-Restructuring, Short-Term Below Market Loans (for inventory or working capital), and Expansion (of goods and services) Assistance. The Recruitment Initiatives included Property Tax Rebates, Revolving Loan Funds, Providing Parking, and Land Assembly. The combination of the two lists represented almost two dozen initiatives to promote economic development in your community.
The Main Street folks called these initiatives “two sides of the same coin” and the instructor from LISC said “you get more economic leverage if your programs can support both retention and recruitment”. Based on others’ experiences, supporting both retention and recruitment would appear to be the surest path to economic vitality.