Economic Growth and
Local Economic Well-Being
The last two decades have brought hard times to many American communities. This has been a time of economic disruption and reorganization, painful, and even demoralizing to many. During the 1970s and the 1980s, four recessions, including the two most serious downturns since the Great Depression, stalled the national economy in lengthy periods of almost no net growth. Persistent inflation, sometimes at double-digit levels, added to the economic confusion. The average real earnings of nonsupervisory workers were lower in 1995 than in 1975.
In addition to these national economic cycles, significant regional shifts added to the sense of breakdown. The industrial heartland, a belt stretching through the Great Lakes region into New England, entered a period of significant decline. Manufacturing activity declined nationwide, as goods from other countries made significant inroads into American markets. In addition, consumer purchasing patterns shifted somewhat away from manufactured goods toward services. Compounding these problems in the traditional manufacturing states was a shift in the location of manufacturing activity, out of the "frostbelt" and toward the South and the West.
But even the South and the West faced economic disruption. The bust that followed the energy boom of the 1970s and the early 1980s left many western states reeling, and the near-collapse of metal and uranium mining and processing compounded the problems. The half-century-long '"California dream" came to an end in the early 1990s, as unemployment rates rose and property values declined.
Almost all regions and communities have faced elements of economic decline over the last two decades. In response, cities, states, and regions have searched desperately for ways to shore up their economies. Out of these efforts has emerged a common set of public policies, labeled economic-development strategies.
These strategies emerged from the economic-base view of the local economy. The business community, most economic-development professionals, and the ubiquitous local economic-development corporations strongly endorse these