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Economic Gardening

Littleton, Colorado's healthier approach to economic development.
November 29, 2000, 12am PST | Chris Gibbons
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Chris GibbonsIn Littleton, Colorado, we believe that gardening is a healthier approach to economic development than recruiting (hunting). Littleton does not recruit nor provide incentives. We do not have a marketing budget nor do we travel to other cities trawling for companies. Since 1987 we have focused on building a nurturing environment for local growth companies.

Not only is our approach effective (annual employment growth rate -- 8%; annual retail sales tax growth rate -- 6%) but it is healthier for our community. We do not give scarce public resources like tax dollars and infrastructure budgets to footloose companies. We are of the opinion that sound companies don't need subsidies and we are not interested in weak companies that do.

Rather than thinking that a community must, in the words of Blanche DuBoise, "rely on the kindness of strangers," economic gardening assumes communities can take care of themselves. Local entrepreneurs are just as good as those in some other state. In Littleton, we have built community assets and infrastructure and have created wealth from the inside. In doing that, we have created opportunities and hope for our own citizens and nurtured businesses, which have deep roots in the community.

The core elements of economic gardening include providing information, infrastructure and connections for local growth companies. Littleton uses sophisticated information tools like online database services to provide everything from marketing lists, competitor intelligence and legislation tracking to monitoring new product releases and ferreting out industry trends. Littleton also provides direct mail lists and conducts focus groups for local companies. City Council considers these services to be "prepaid" by local taxes and does not charge for most of them.

Littleton also works to provide connections between industry and academia. The city set up the Colorado Center for Information Technologies, brought in graduate level engineering courses via microwave and helped the local community college establish a telecommunications curriculum and E-commerce courses.

The community worked on basic infrastructure issues like interchanges and light rail as well as quality of life and intellectual infrastructure. The community has trails in every major drainage channel and park land four times the national average. Start up companies often comment on the well-planned nature of the community as a factor in attracting talent to their companies.

Economic gardening has spread to communities like San Bernardino, Lake Elsinore and Chico, California; Santa Fe and even abroad to Bangor, Northern Ireland and communities in Norway. To obtain more information, write to Christian Gibbons, B/IA, City of Littleton, 2255 West Berry Ave., Littleton, CO 80165.

Christian Gibbons is the Director of the Business / Industry Affairs Department of the City of Littleton and the co-inventor (along with Littleton City Manager Jim Woods and assistance from the Center for the New West) of economic gardening. Mr. Gibbons is also the moderator of "econ-dev," a mail list of 400 economic developers, consultants, academics, politicians, writers and students around the world that discuss the concepts of economic gardening.

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