The Community and Economic Development Chain: Validating the Links between Processes and Outcomes

Article excerpt

The community development and economic development literatures have evolved largely independently with little recognition of the critical relationship between the two disciplines. This omission is not so obvious when researchers focus on individual components of each discipline in isolation, but upon examination of how community and economic development systems work in theory and practice overall, this shortcoming becomes apparent. A proposed framework illustrates the links between community and economic development capacities, factors, and functions and shows the importance of community development to economic development outcomes. In particular, it focuses on the link between social capital and the outcome of community development and an economic development ready community. The framework provides an overarching paradigm that helps tie together some of the research in the two fields. Using data from a statewide survey, correlation coefficients are calculated, showing the connections between capacity factors, development factors, and development functions. Strong statistical results provide evidence to support the community and economic development framework and validate the use of subjective data.

Keywords: community development, economic development, process, outcome, capacity, development factors, development functions

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This article sets forth a framework of community and economic development as interrelated processes and outcomes and tests that framework with statewide survey data from Louisiana. Because of difficulties in measuring the often subjective community and economic development processes and capacities, these factors are often underrepresented in empirical analyses. Even using "hard" objective measures of community and economic development factors can be problematic in research studies because the factors can be measured in many different ways, often at the discretion of the researcher. As an alternative analytical approach, this study utilizes subjective survey data to measure community and economic development factors and functions which do not lend themselves to quantitative measurement. This article shows that, by not recognizing the important links between community development and economic development, many previous studies have produced results of limited dimensionality. Future research in community and economic development, both theoretical and empirical, will be more robust if this overarching framework is acknowledged and further explored.

A FRAMEWORK FOR COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Community development is defined in many ways in the literature, with some definitions emphasizing the processes of community development and others emphasizing the outcomes. From these different approaches, a simple but broad definition of community development can be derived:

A process: developing or increasing the ability to act collectively; and an outcome: taking collective action, and the result of that action for improvement in a community in any or all realms: physical, environmental, cultural, social, political, economic, etc. (Phillips & Pittman, 2009, p. 6).

There is a large body of literature that, while recognizing the importance of the skills and abilities of individuals, also identifies social capacity (or capital) as a factor that facilitates community development and capacity building as an exercise in creating or increasing the stock of social capital. This relationship can be further described as follows: "the process of community development is social capital/capacity building which leads to social capital which in turn leads to the outcome of community development" (Phillips & Pittman, 2009, p. 5; italics original).

Economic development can be viewed as a process and outcome as well. This has been well established in the literature for many years. An early definition from the American Economic Development Council illustrates this view:

[Economic development is] the process of creating wealth through the mobilization of human, financial, capital, physical, and natural resources to generate marketable goods and services. …