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Competing for the Heartland

Back in November I wrote a Blog titled ‘Best in Class,” citing a Forbes article that listed the Top 10 best cities in America to build a business. Review of that article and its rationale for selection into this elite class encouraged more consideration of Richard Florida’s superb book Who’s Your City, which describes characteristics that generally attract young talented people and new business enterprises. Florida’s premise is fairly straightforward – if you want a vibrant, growing and competitive city, it must have the ability to attract the best and brightest.

As I was developing predictions for 2010, I found myself more interested in the questions surrounding out- and in-migration of people, why they choose to leave (or stay) and what might prompt a talented person to pull up stakes and search for a new city. For those of us who spend considerable time working on economic development and building efficient communities, this seems a central question.

For those elected officials and professional public managers who have not read the new book by Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas, it is a must-read. Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America is a marvelous book about the motivations and heartache that accompanies hard decisions related to abandoning a nurturing rural community. Journalist Nick Reding has captured similar sentiments and causative factors in his equally powerful book, Methland, which documents the new economy, changing social structures and the corrosive polarity that exists between the communities celebrated by Richard Florida and those he, Carr and Kefalas describe.

Let’s be clear – the U.S. landscape is changing. And it is not a slow, passive trendline. Current economic forces are accelerating the evolution of many communities. Young and mid-career people who cannot find work are leaving for larger, more dynamic cities. While those cities are and will continue to prosper in the New Economy, communities that do not evolve quickly will slowly fade. While this accelerating trend has been well documented, remedies have also been proposed. Unfortunately, far too many communities have not responded or waited too long to mobilize resources.

As I return to my predictions for 2010 (out next week) I encourage you to think about the status of your community, your department, and your citizens. Is there magnetism that can be used to attract new business and talent? What is the mood of the community? Is there a reasonably high level of ‘can-do’ spirit? What are out-migration trends among both employees and residents? Are you seeing new residents choosing the community and asking why?

Communities must be more Prepared For Challenge than ever before…and must develop a plan. Take time to pick up the books mentioned above. They may provide insight and encouragement, if the depression doesn’t get you first.

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. John is the author of Operations Planning: A Guide for Public Officials and Managers in Troubled Times, and The Strategic Planning Guide, both published by the International City/ County Management Association (ICMA). An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges (public futures)

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