Building Economies That Benefit People

Building Strong Local Economies

Throughout the American West, community leaders want to build strong local economies. They want better jobs—and more of them, thriving local businesses, and real opportunities for economic mobility. They want to provide quality services, infrastructure, and amenities to support a healthy economy and a great quality of life—all while being fiscally prudent. These leaders want an economy that benefits the community and makes people’s lives better. It’s these economies that will succeed in the future.

The Old Way Isn’t Working

Unfortunately, most local economies continue to struggle. They remain too dependent on a single industry. They don’t create enough good jobs. They leave too many people behind. They are built around cheap, short-term “revenue generators” rather than value-creating local enterprises. They don’t offer pathways for upward mobility or create lasting community prosperity.

The mismatch between the economies we want and what we’re actually getting reflects outdated approaches to economic development. For years, communities have spent taxpayer dollars to attract large businesses from elsewhere, incentivize big-box retailers, or prop-up certain sectors of the economy at the expense of others. These tactics are expensive and they don’t work. They harm local businesses, incentivize cheap, low-value development, and rarely create good jobs. They do not build the types of communities that attract jobs employment opportunities and talent in today’s economy.

Better Ways to Build Community Prosperity

Building better economies relies on changing how we do economic development. It’s time to stop throwing money at businesses from somewhere else, and start creating an environment where residents, start-ups, and existing local businesses can thrive. We emphasize place-based strategies that strengthen existing businesses, create a healthy environment for start-ups and entrepreneurs, and use strategic placemaking investments to build vibrant places.

How We Help

We work with communities that want to build an economy that benefits the whole of the community and creates lasting value and prosperity. From small-scale placemaking projects to regional economic development collaboratives, we help communities develop locally-rooted strategies that build upon and enhance their place-based assets while addressing key needs and challenges. We’re currently focused on the following areas of opportunity for communities in the American West.

A growing number of communities have realized the power of investing in local assets to create great places. Our own research, the Place Value study, found that building a strong economy starts with creating a great community where people want to live and work.

As work becomes more mobile, people and businesses are choosing to be in places that offer a high quality of life, which opens up opportunities for all kinds of communities to create jobs and attract talent. That’s why communities that invest in great downtowns, access to parks and recreation, arts and culture, and other amenities are finding economic success, while improving the community for residents and businesses.

Shifting to a place-based economic strategy is a start, but it’s not enough. A truly healthy economy has ample opportunities for all people to thrive. Right now, most local economies—including many that seem strong from the outside—leave too many hard-working people behind. This reality isn’t just holding them back—it creates a significant barrier to building a diverse and resilient local economy.

In response to growing economic inequality at the national level, many communities are working to expand opportunities for more people to start and grow businesses and to create real wealth at the local level. This includes a growing number of strategies designed to spur innovation and entrepreneurship. Going further, the Community Wealth Building field encompasses a wide range of strategies designed to broaden ownership of assets and capital so more people can thrive as their communities succeed.