Sustainable Economic Development and Policy. Where do communities fit in?

What are the biggest needs and gaps in business and economic development policy, here in Portland, in the state of Oregon (quite a different industrial base on the whole than Portland’s entrepreneurial and small business enterprise)? I see a need to engage groups of small businesses around sustainability, and to refocus policy, investment, and capital on building community and community-scale resources (i.e. vs. the standard model of individual, competitive businesses). There are so many discussions happening among neighborhood groups, non-profits, business alliances, and non-profits about community building as a response to economic downturn, and creating new and non-monetary means of exchange. Where does that leave local and state economic development agencies in the long term? Or even the short term, as communities move further away from conventional economic development models and create new localized economies of exchange? The challenge for the state may not be as much in raising and distributing capital as it will be adapting and responding to what communities create in response to the economic downturn/crisis that could make large-scale economic development efforts less relevant. Maybe I’m not entirely on target and/or missing a key piece of this puzzle (quite likely!), but it’s an interesting and active conversation in Portland right now.

While State programs and policies may partly have less relevance in the future, the State will (for some limited period of time) continue to control large pots of money and exert control over major elements of the economy, including energy supplies, access to essential resources, and funding of social services. For example, States will still have some responsibility for infrastructure maintenance and repair, especially roads and bridges. They will be faced with tough decisions about how to allocate dwindling budgets toward infrastructure and social services, and may pit them against each other. In that way, local and community decisions about transportation, energy, food, water, shelter, and other basic services will eventually take precedence over State action (or inaction, or inability to act). As Dmitri Orlov muses in his essay, “Thriving in the Age of Collapse,” as transportation infrastructure and fuel-ability declines, communities will need “to make use of what they have available in the immediate vicinity.”

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