Wealth Builders

A new economic strategy at the community level

By Bruce Corrie

Recently I proposed a new strategy of community wealth creation to and its partners. Here’s how it would work: The smallest unit of organization could be at the precinct level because of its ties with political power and accountability. The preferred level of organization could be the ward, which is a combination of precincts and/or neighborhoods.

Community members would come together to first view baseline data on the economic assets in their areas: the neighborhood businesses, nonprofits, workers, and educational and health care institutions. They would also view estimates of their economic contributions in their areas as both consumers and taxpayers.

Members would then adopt strategies to grow economic assets and create community wealth by asking questions in the following areas: 

Business Growth: How can we grow the existing businesses in the area so that they could hire more local people or improve the wages of existing employees? 

Workforce: What are the skill levels of the workforce in the area? How can these workers improve their skills and credentials so that they can improve their living standards? How can we connect these workers to skill development programs in nearby training institutions?

Education: What specific strategies are proposed to improve educational outcomes of youth living in the area? What recreational opportunities are available for youth and how well do they serve them? What kind of internship and job opportunities are available and how many young people in the area have been engaged or hired? 

Housing: What is the housing inventory in the area, and how many residents own their homes? What are the primary needs of homeowners and renters, and how are they addressed effectively? How much have home values grown over time?

Personal Wealth: What is the growth of personal financial assets available to the working poor in the area, such as individual development accounts, tax credits, etc.? What resources are available for alternative financing?

Community meetings would include all elected officials serving the area so that they can receive input from residents and business owners. The community, in turn, can offer strategies that these elected officials can champion at their units of government. An accountability dashboard would help monitor progress in achieving economic goals. 

At the national level, the group Democracy Collaborative has done an excellent job illustrating how such a strategy of community wealth-building differs from traditional economic development initiatives and tools. We need to change our paradigm of economic development into one of community wealth creation so that the concept of trickle-up economics works for people at the local level. 

This story appears in print in our March/April issue. Click here for a complimentary subscription.