Grenada Tries “Economic Gardening”

“Economic gardening.”

Sounds like a frugal way to grow flowers and veggies, doesn’t it?

Nope.

Chris Gibbons developed “economic gardening” for Littleton, Colorado, as an alternative to “economic hunting,” i.e., chasing after ever more elusive and expensive factories. “Economic gardening” is about communities growing jobs from within.

Pablo Diaz is bringing economic gardening to Grenada, Mississippi.

He tells the story well. Over 98% of businesses in America are small, employing 10 or fewer people. All together, these small businesses provide 77% of all jobs. The numbers are similar for Mississippi. They are skewed in Grenada. There, 36% of jobs are provided by a few major companies.

“If one of these should close, it would seriously hurt our economy,” Diaz told an MDA asset mapping team last week. While continuing to work hard to maintain its major employers, Grenada needs to start and grow more small businesses to diversify its economy, Diaz explained.

Community and business leaders see “economic gardening” as the way to do that.

The problem Diaz faces as the county’s economic developer is he pretty much has to go it alone. Our support systems for economic development are geared to “economic hunting” and major existing employers. MDA’s financing programs target utilities, roads, and buildings. Cities and counties build industrial parks.

Diaz’s needs are different. Knowledge, data, innovation, research, and state-of-the art business practices are tools he needs for “economic gardening.”

“I want my local businesses to have access to the same tools that major companies have in deciding when and where to expand,” he says.

Toward that end Diaz is building capacity to provide support in three areas: 1) Technical Support – providing critical information needed by businesses to survive and thrive; 2) Infrastructure Development – providing access to intellectual resources and a culture that embraces growth and change; and 3) Networking Opportunities – developing connections among businesses owners and organizations that can guide them to continuous success.

Four state senators in East Mississippi are bringing a facet of “economic gardening” to their communities. Through a grant from the AT&T Foundation, Haskins Montgomery, Videt Carmichael, Sampson Jackson, and Terry Burton are sponsoring “Nexus Hero Workshops.” The workshops teach rural communities and entrepreneurs how to better use the Internet, social networks, and market strategies to start and expand businesses and create jobs.

As small communities find it harder and harder to attract plants and create jobs, they might want to take a hard look “economic gardening.” But, as Diaz knows, it takes smarts and technical capacity many small communities don’t have.

As policy makers look to the future, perhaps they should consider putting resources into “economic gardening” as well as “economic hunting.” That may be the only hope for many small communities.

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