Connecting state and local government leaders
A series of NACo summits also encouraged counties to develop homegrown businesses and entrepreneurs, rather than looking to lure a ‘big fish’ company.
Local governments seeking sustainable growth can benefit from systematic economic development that encourages regional collaboration and leverages diverse capital.
This year, the National Association of Counties held five pilot County Prosperity Summits in Titus County, Texas; Shasta County, California; Scott County, Kentucky; Cheatham County, Tennessee; and Cape May County, New Jersey sharing the WealthWorks approach of using community assets to increase shared wealth.
The competitively chosen counties were all rural or midsized, and the summits brought their elected officials, small business owners and residents together to form relationships while discussing equitable development.
“One of the problems with our community, having grown up here, is we’ve gone through these cycles of boom and bust. Most of the economic development was based on resource extraction,” says Mike Dahl, former Redding, California, mayor in a NACo podcast on the summits. “Whether it’s gold during the Gold Rush days to mining for copper to logging and the timber industry, it’s just been up and down and unsustainable, and it’s a multi-generational phenomenon.
Shasta County’s summit, which Dahl attended, focused on making better use of the region’s natural assets—rivers, lakes, mountains and clean air—while ending cyclical poverty.
NACo continuously emphasized place-based capital throughout all its summits as a means of attracting new residents, businesses and investors.
While the nature-based tourism industry was Shasta’s biggest asset, Titus County’s summit revolved around sustainable agriculture and the food sector.
“We know we’ve got some great land here, some great farmland,” says Chris Brown, Ark-Tex Council of Governments executive director, in the podcast. “We know we’ve got a pocket of end users that are very willing to and ready to purchase regionally grown foods to support this process.”
For too long the county of 32,000 residents looked for a major company to relocate and bring jobs, when it could have been developing homegrown talent.
Local officials now intend to implement a value chain model, involving entrepreneurs’ shared use of infrastructure, to expand the region’s food economy. The tactic has proven effective in similar-sized counties, according to NACo.
Titus exemplifies another major tenet of NACo’s training: supporting existing entrepreneurs and small businesses in the sector of the economy government is trying to grow.
While only five summits were held in 2015, NACo intends to share takeaways as it considers another round next year.
Listen to NACo’s full podcast on its prosperity summits here.
Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.