• Welcome to the FUTURE!

    The PublicFutures BLOG keeps you current on the latest research and thinking on major trends, policy shifts, 'hot topics', and evolving perspectives about the Future. Be sure to subscribe to the RSS or get email updates so you are kept up-to-date on all the latest posts.
  • Email Updates

  • Share the FUTURE with the world!

  • Learn more at our Company Site

Becoming an Economic Magnet

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking at a statewide public relations summit that convened public relations experts who specialize in economic development. Sponsored by the Department of Commerce, it was a terrific group of professionals who impressed me with their dedication and expertise.

My message was simple – the future will be challenging with no simple answers. Public program and service demands, basic operations, and maintenance requirements will combine to outstrip resource availability due to a contracting economy that is seeking a new ‘center.’ While I see growth in years to come, it will be slower and more calculated as people and businesses weigh options and become more conservative. What does this mean for those who champion economic growth in our communities? In my view it means several things.

First, motivating established enterprises to pull up stakes and move to another location will be difficult. The rewards must clearly outweigh the costs (and trauma). Second, competition for new businesses and job creation will be enormous and, as with any competition, differentiation is the key. Classic economic development uses a variety of incentives, including tax breaks, free land, reduced or subsidized utilities, and a host of other attractive options. Certainly, to attract business incentives are important, but in my view they often focus on the wrong things – and some of what is required is not always available.

The central theme of my talk was that INTANGIBLES matter as much as, if not more than, TANGIBLES. Here is a partial list of the tangible factors I shared – all of which business typically seeks:

  • Adequate, reasonably priced and available power and water
  • Incentives – state and local
  • Available land and facilities
  • Supportive lending institutions
  • Reasonable tax rates
  • Competent, stable and available workforce
  • Good supply lines
  • Decent transportation (public, private) and road system
  • Plenty of inexpensive broadband – connectivity to the world
  • Good/ wide spectrum support services
  • Reasonable regulatory environment
  • Strong educational system

There are more, but the point is that many communities can generally provide these and will offer more incentives as the cornucopia of freebies escalates. But what REALLY attracts people?  We know that jobs, affordable/ available housing, support services, recreation, reasonable utility costs, public transportation, and good schools are essential. But what else?

A Search for Peace, Harmony and Stability  

Research and experience in many venues tells me that intangibles matter as much as tangibles. As a business owner, if I can load up on incentives from any number of communities in several states, what factors weigh most heavily in my final decision to relocate?

I believe the following factors are essential. Note that most deal with FEELINGS. 

  • Opportunity
  • Space – the feeling one can get away
  • Acceptance/ feeling of welcome
  • Harmony/ peace
  • Options – the freedom to try new things
  • Support systems (all types)
  • Interested/ caring community/ state

As a trend watcher, I believe the most essential and desired characteristic in the future will be STABILITY – FOR PEOPLE AND BUSINESS. It will drive decisions to move or stay – either from or to a community or from or to a job. 

Our work in economic development must embrace this shift. Businesses and people want stability. Those communities that provide this and other essential intangibles will be more successful in generating economic vitality. This will take new types of community assessments and creative approaches to public relations. Intangibles cost less and generally produce more magnetism. By today’s standards, they are a great bargain.


With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John frequently speaks and consults on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges. He holds both the MPH and MPA degrees as well as a doctorate in education.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: