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Smart Growth

Framework for Creating a Smart Growth Economic Development Strategy

A Tool for Small Cities and Towns

Cover of Framework for Creating a Smart Growth Economic Development Strategy

Many small and mid-sized cities around the United States are struggling because their economies were built largely on a single economic sector that has changed significantly. For example, jobs might once have been heavily concentrated in industries like logging, mining, or manufacturing, but technology and market forces have transformed these sectors, and they no longer employ a large workforce. Changing circumstances, such as those caused by resource depletion, globalization, or shifts in consumer preferences, can shake the economic foundations of these communities, leaving people without jobs and cities without a healthy tax base. 

Rather than simply seeking to attract major employers to replace these lost jobs, several cities have tried a different method to anticipate and overcome some of these challenges. This emerging shift toward place-based approaches to economic development can go by various names. This document uses the term "smart growth economic development" to refer to a strategy that builds upon existing assets, takes incremental actions to strengthen communities, and builds long-term value to attract a range of investments.

Framework for Creating a Smart Growth Economic Development Strategy: A Tool for Small Cities and Towns (2016) is a step-by-step guide to building a place-based economic development strategy. It is intended for small and mid-sized cities, particularly those that have limited population growth, areas of disinvestment, and/or a struggling economy.

The tool begins with an overview of key concepts for a smart growth economic development strategy, then covers the five steps for preparing one.

Staff from municipal governments and regional economic development organizations, nonprofit organizations seeking to help revitalize communities, and other stakeholders could use this tool to help guide their work. It presents a framework for information to gather, issues to consider, and potential approaches to explore. Every community and place is different, and communities can modify and refine this tool based on local conditions.

EPA developed this tool as part of a Smart Growth Implementation Assistance project in Kelso, Washington. Using Smart Growth Strategies to Foster Economic Development: A Kelso, Washington, Case Study explains how the tool helped Kelso begin developing a smart growth economic development strategy.

Find more smart growth resources for small towns and rural communities, and see other smart growth publications that deal with business and economic development.

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