What is Economic Gardening?
Before you can know why you should care about economic gardening, you probably need to know what it is. The core idea of economic gardening is that local entrepreneurs and businesses are the biggest contributors when it comes to creating new jobs. The philosophy basically says that the most local economic growth happens when local entrepreneurship is emphasized, as opposed to trying to attract businesses from outside the community (known as “economic hunting”). The whole concept dates back around 20 years. In 1989, Littleton, CO (pop. 41,000) lost their biggest source of employment due to relocation. Rather than crumple up and scream “No fair!”, they decided to leverage their local businesses in an effort to sustain their economy… and thus economic gardening was developed. Since then, over 15,000 jobs have been created in Littleton since then.
Economic gardening is made up of three key elements:
1. Access to information. Giving small businesses access to competitive intelligence on customers, competitors, and markets. Littleton provides businesses with information that is traditionally only available to large companies with lots of resources. This information includes industry trends, marketing research, other business questions, and other information resources. Doing so gives small businesses the information necessary to succeed and saves them the costs of paying for commercially collected information.
2. Developing infrastructure. We’re not just talking basic physical infrastructure. With economic gardening you need intelligence infrastructure (qualified workers) and quality of life infrastructure. For example, Littleton hosted e-Commerce classes at a local community college to help train workers. Additionally there needs to be a developed culture that is open to growth. The community as a whole needs to embrace this philosophy for it be work effectively.
3. Making connections. In order to flourish businesses need connections with other businesses and business associations, service providers, education instituions, and more. Christian Gibbons, who is credited with developing economic gardening, said “We are aware of research in network theory that indicates that an increase in the number of business connections increases the innovation levels of companies. In particular, “weak ties” to “hubs” outside a business’s normal daily connections are important for bringing in new ideas.” Remember, even the most unlikely of people might be able to provide some type of value for your company.
So Why Is It Important?
Let’s be clear: economic gardening is not the magic bullet for for all economic woes, but it’s a start. Small business owners, the self-employed, and those who freelance will be much more likely to thrive if they are in a supportive community. Think about it: if someone becomes unemployed but has access to training, a community full of knowledge and expertise, as well as information, that person will probably feel much more confident in taking a leap into entrepreneurship, To grow local communities– whether big or small– it is necessary to invest in the businesses that already exist in the community.
As a business owner, you alone most likely won’t be able to change your entire community, but there are small things you can do to try to to live like an economic gardner! Shop local and support your community businesses, reach out to other small business owners in your area, and do what you can to raise awareness of the benefits of economic gardening. The more awareness there is, the more likely it is you will see change in your community. Our own initiative to foster economic gardening takes place at Front Range Community College in Westminster, Colorado, where our owner Deb Kolaras teaches free classes to small business owners.
For more information on economic gardening and its history, visit the City of Littleton website. We’d love you to share your stories of economic gardening. Drop a comment below or send us an email about what you’re doing. Photo credit: patrickb