I'm a village trustee in rural upstate NY. For twenty years I've been trying to get our village and surrounding town to create a joint economic development office to help retain and expand, and create or lure businesses within our community. Conventional economic thinking has created a race to the bottom, with every community in a zero-sum battle to cajole or bribe outside manufacturers or retailers to locate THERE, resulting in a bidding war small depressed villages like ours simply can't win.
Now, our neighboring hamlet is being considered for a Wal-Mart Supercenter and there are those who think this is wonderful: glowing talk of jobs, convenient shopping, increased traffic for other businesses. My gut feeling, and plenty of research, has convinced me this was not going to be the case, and, like other small communities who had to deal with this possibility, I was concerned that this would decimate our existing local businesses, increase our costs for services, medical care, public assistance, etc., but was hard pressed to explain why this was the wrong way to go, or what we could do as a superior alternative.
I'm also a board member of Sustainable Hudson Valley, and the director got me a copy of Shuman's book and I devoured it in time to write a column for the local paper,do a radio interview, and present my proposals to a joint village/town board on just what a truly 21st century Development Office should focus on.
Shuman's book has neatly articulated and crystalized the thoughts and concepts I've been trying to put forth for years, and has backed them up with the facts and stats that will make it easier to overcome the "There is no alternative" thinking prevalent among economic development agencies and local officials. He shows the inherent and hidden shortcomings and costs involved in pursuing outside "white knights" or letting outside 800-pound gorillas dictate and control a community's economic destiny, and counters with a more sensible and long-term strategy to grow the "living economies" locally, with increased local production, ownership, and financing.
Shuman was at our county seat today to give a presentation based on the book, so I was able to convince some others from my community to come and hear what he had to say, and get a copy of the book; about 40 local officials, businesspersons, chamber of commerce heads, planners, and other necessary components of a comprehensive nucleus to spread this "gospel" came from two counties, and I hope to get more villagers to get copies of this book when I show a film on "Independent America" next week, which covers some of the same ground as the book, so complements it well.
I have just started reading his earlier book, "Going Local," and I plan to make them both essential reading for any local officials who will be involved in creating the new Development Office, because he lays out a template for what such an entity SHOULD be focussing on, and I wouldn't want such an office to get mired in old-style, zero-sum thinking when here is a way that we won't have to compete with neighboring communities at all... with each community growing its economy from WITHIN that community, there is no competition, no race to the bottom! Indeed, we could then network at the regional level to fill in gaps, learn from each other, expand each market area in sectors where one community has developed production unique to itself, or work together to create regional businesses that simply require larger scale or greater demographics to work.
I hope to get Shuman down directly to our village and town so he can fire up the Gloomy Gus types who are still thinking inside the literal "big box" and show them that there is a better way, and to use his book as the bible of how to rethink and reframe the approach to building better and stronger local economies.
Earlier works by others have certainly established the underlying principles and philosophical basis for this school of thought, but Shuman's book takes advantage of the practical examples and studies since then to prove the validity of the earlier thinking, and brings it right up to date. And for those in or expecting to have to battle with a big box, here's plenty of good ammunition to use to counter the wishful thinking or outright hype that gets many to roll over and surrender to the "inevitable." I now feel armed and ready!