Academic journal article International Journal of Economic Development

Economic Development Activities of Urban Religious Institutions

Academic journal article International Journal of Economic Development

Economic Development Activities of Urban Religious Institutions

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper explores the nature and extent of faith-based economic development activities in an urban city and describes the institutions engaged in and the organizational arrangements used for implementing such strategies. Based on in-depth interviews with faith-based institutions in the City of Detroit it concludes that while economic development activities tend to cluster around housing and a mix of job training and social services, faith-based activities encompass a wide range including: business operation; job training; financial activities; citizenship training; cultural development, and cooperative efforts with Community Development Corporations and other faith institutions.

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   The complex nature of problems facing black neighborhoods
   means that holistic approaches to community development,
   involving political, spiritual, social, and economic strategies
   may be the only hope for success (Thomas and Blake, 1996:
   p. 135).

This paper explores the nature and extent of faith-based economic development activities in an urban city and describes the institutions engaged in and the organizational arrangements used for implementing such strategies. While there is little academic literature on such efforts, it appears that many religious organizations engage in a variety of economic development activities. Much of our understanding of faith-based economic development efforts comes from the popular press and news media and while such "accounts offer important pieces of a story ... the literature about them tends to be scattered, disjointed, and descriptive rather than conceptual or analytical" (Thomas and Blake, 1996: p. 137). And, little or no systematic scholarly research has focused on identifying and/or evaluating the efforts of faith-based community institutions in economic development. As a start, this paper provides a detailed description of current faith-based economic development activities in the Empowerment Zone in the City of Detroit based on intensive face-to-face interviews with key participants. Issues of program funding and organization are also explored

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, cities across the country chased "smoke-stacks" and employed supply-side policies to foster local economic development, policies essentially designed to attract footloose, ideally industrial or manufacturing, firms by lowering the costs of production (Wassall and Hellman, 1985; Eisinger, 1988; Reese, 1992, among many others). Such efforts appeared to be particularly prevalent in eastern and midwestern "rust-belt" cities as they attempted to deal with business relocation and the subsequent loss of tax base and jobs, increasing costs of service provision, and declining federal support (Sawers and Tabb, 1984; Reese, 1992; Reese, 1997). Subsequent research strongly suggested that such approaches were ineffective because they tended to move business around rather than create new capital investment, they increased unhealthy and costly competition between cities, they directed the benefits of public dollars to private firms, and cities tended not to reap job and tax base benefits commensurate with the expenditure of local resources (see, for example, Ahlbrandt and DeAngelis, 1987; Eisinger, 1988; Bowman, 1988; Schwarz and Volgy, 1992; Eisenschitz, 1993; Reese and Fasenfest, 1997).

In the late 1980s, the literature pointed to a shift in the direction of local strategies toward more demand-side or entrepreneurial approaches, including providing venture capital, funding research and development, developing export markets for local goods, and operating business incubators. These strategies are designed to leverage local government power and resources in developing new capital investment, diversifying the economic base, and supporting new, local entrepreneurs (Eisinger, 1988). While the "verdict" is still out on such efforts, research has suggested that many of these policies are most appropriate and feasible at the state level and that few cities, particularly in "rust-belt" states, are embracing such policies (Reese, 1992; Reese and Fasenfest, 1997). …

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