By V.P. Chris Stuart, first seen on The Virginia Pilot

As a member of the Hampton City Council and executive of a successful regional service business, I consider it an honor to actively seek out opportunities to better engage the citizens of our community with information that speaks to the value of forging a healthy local economy. While reading over the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s newly released “Guidebook for Elected Officials,” a few notable concepts struck me as useful knowledge not only for elected officials, but equally as important for our region’s citizens.

“Without continued growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning” – Benjamin Franklin. This quote opened the guide’s section on the importance of a community’s local businesses in creating new jobs.

While new businesses are often the point of focus in pursuing more jobs, it is existing, stable companies already in the community that generate more employment. In 2011 (the most recent year with information), nearly 20,000 new jobs were added by existing businesses in Virginia while that number was closer to 8,000 for new firms.

The guidebook states, “Local expansion projects are more likely to initially fill a significant number of jobs with out-of-town talent.” It is imperative that elected officials work with existing local businesses to encourage retention and expansion and that citizens remind elected officials and development professionals to appreciate those firms we already have in our business community.

The report also spoke to the crucial nature of regional cooperation and collaboration in encouraging positive economic activity. The guidebook says a business will consider a region as a whole when making location decisions, so it is critical to “cooperate in order to present the best, most cohesive regional image possible.”

This strikes to the heart of what should be the goal of any citizen, councilman, mayor, delegate, congressman or senator. The focus isn’t merely on one’s limited jurisdiction, but how multiple communities can come together under one joint vision in what’s best for the regional community.

I am reminded of New York City’s geo-political makeup, which employs a president over each of the city’s five boroughs. When the leader of a borough advocates for a change in the policies of his or her district, the interdependent borough system only works when it considers how its decisions will impact New York City in its entirety. Active collaboration, not competition, between neighboring municipalities, businesses and elected representatives is integral in creating a sound economic environment for any region.

A final observation that may seem fairly obvious is one that is always beneficial to be reminded of.

The guide wrote, “Businesses do not locate in your community to do you a favor. They locate because it makes economic sense to do so. Business capital will go where it is appreciated.”

Having already gone over the merits of counting on existing business for positive impacts like increased employment, the point of making a city attractive to new companies is still very significant. Things like cumbersome use of city property, inconvenient zoning regulations, unaddressed areas of low repute and over-taxation are naturally all detractors from any city’s business environment.

The key to any city or region’s success is to aggressively ensure that the question, “How does this decision affect our small businesses?” can be answered positively.

This article is titled “Economics of community is everyone’s job” because I believe it’s important that everyone take part in cultivating what is a very push-and-pull dynamic between a region’s inhabitants and the businesses that define its economic character.

The job isn’t merely up to the elected officials and economic development professionals; rather the challenge is to the whole community in working toward creating an economic atmosphere best for the region and appealing to all businesses, both current and prospective.

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