Economic Development

By Stewart, Amy | Government Finance Review, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Economic Development


Stewart, Amy, Government Finance Review


Economic Development It's Not Just for Big Ticket Items Anymore Economic Development for Small Communities: A Handbook for Economic Development Practitioners and Community Leaders Robert W. Shively, CEcD National Center for Small Communities www.smallcommunities.org/ncsc 2004, pp. $24.50

Robert Shively's Economie Development for Small Communities is a pragmatic guide written for the group of finance directors and community leaders responsible for economic development in small towns; a group all too often left out of discussions revolving around big-ticket development projects. Shively's decades of experience and success in small town economic development roles in the Midwest position him as the ideal candidate to author such a practical guide. To set the stage Shively outlines seven steps to successful community development, and then chooses to organize his chapters according to bite-sized topics, loosely presented in process order. Fourteen chapters are packed into this 98-page book, allowing only for a high-level overview of most of his seven steps.

The book opens with the typical proclamation that it is written for just about anyone, from novices to seasoned professionals. Although many of the underlying principles are in fact universally applicable, in truth, the profiled practices are most relevant to individuals without a specific background in economic development activities, and without the time to develop this expertise. For many small town leaders economic development is just a fraction of their diverse job responsibilities and it is these finance directors, chamber of commerce executives, and community volunteers who will most benefit from Shively's experience and wisdom.

For all his practicality, Shively spends an inordinate amount of up-front real estate setting the stage for the rest of the book. Ultimately, he gives a definition for a small town (one with less than 25,000 inhabitants) and determines that the difference between economic development and community development is largely negligible. We are also exposed to a bit too much of his inner monologue regarding urban migration and the importance of small towns on his way to reaching his definition of economic development. But what he finally comes up with is a broad and ambitious definition that nicely frames the content in the rest of the book.

Beyond his introductory topics, Shively commits a rather long chapter to the topic of leadership, an important aspect that practical handbooks often overlook. However, his coverage of the topic is so pragmatic in this case that it reads as if written for an economic development official new to a small town, and to small towns in general. But readers should not get lost in this aspect of the book because chapter four begins with a useful outline for organizing an economic development program, which flows into a treatment of economic development strategies supporting the community balance of payments beyond manufacturing exports.

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