The Community Economic Development Handbook

The Community Economic Development Handbook: Strategies and Tools to Revitalize Your Neighborhood, by Mihailo Temali. Amherst H. Wilder Foundation (www.wilder.org). 2002. 288 pp. $35 (paperback)..


As a community economic development professional for the past 25 years, I have always wanted a “one-stop” guidebook on strategies and tools for community economic development. The Community Economic Development Handbook fills an important void for practitioners, technical support providers and funders. Temali draws upon a vast body of practice and knowledge, including commercial revitalization, microenterprise, workforce development and growing good neighborhood jobs. Valuable charts and quotes from the field are interspersed with data and information sources. In addition to an appendix on Internet research and the local metropolitan economy, the book provides 30 helpful worksheets on such topics as talking to business owners, surveying a commercial district and assessing neighborhood conditions.

The book’s primary audience appears to be newly formed community-based development organizations and established CDCs in the process of expanding from housing to economic development. However, the real crux of the book is picking what Temali calls “a pivot point strategy” to start or expand economic development. According to Temali, selection of a pivot point should be based on an assessment of whether the strategy significantly improves the local economy and whether the organization can succeed by using its current resources and by taking advantage of opportunities on the horizon.

Once the pivot point strategy is selected, the four steps of community economic development need to be implemented:
• Assessing current conditions in the community relating to the pivot point;
• Creating a vision for this pivot point and strategic plan to achieve it;
• Implementing the plan; and
• Monitoring, evaluating and improving the work.

The remainder of the book focuses on four major pivot point strategies: revitalizing the commercial district, microbusiness development, community workforce development and growing jobs that pay competitive wages and benefits for local residents.

Within each pivot point strategy, Temali uses the four steps of community economic development and suggests a number of tools. To assess conditions of a commercial district, the book encourages practitioners to inventory existing property and businesses, create a business map, talk to neighborhood business owners, visit other commercial districts and study successful shopping centers. This requires various market research techniques, including interviewing residents and business owners both inside and outside the community, digging up basic demographic information and trends about your district at the library or on the internet and using professional market research to analyze market data. Useful federal government information resources are also cited, including the U.S. Census Bureau’s Economic Census, which is helpful in spotting major economic trends.

Thirteen tools are identified for implementing a commercial district plan, including commercial loan funds, business attraction, storefront design and streetscape projects. These tools need to be coordinated, leading to visible changes that engage existing business owners and residents. Temali points out that different tools will be needed for various stages of commercial revitalization. The tools are supplemented by visual examples of commercial revitalization including design guidelines from architectural firms. The same logical format and steps for commercial revitalization are also used for growing microbusinesses, developing the community workforce and growing good neighborhood jobs.

Both the section on developing the community workforce and growing good neighborhood jobs could have benefited from viewing employment in a regional context. One of the challenges is to connect local institutions (vocational/technical schools, high schools, one-stop centers, community job support and retention efforts) to regional employment strategies and networks through community colleges, Workforce Investment Boards, regional transportation entities and other organizations.

The book does a good job of assessing what makes for job-producing businesses in the neighborhood, including the growth characteristics of an individual business and business sectors, the reasons that a firm locates in a neighborhood and the advantages of business clusters. But the chapter slights the impact of regional economic factors on neighborhood businesses, few of which can survive solely on the local market. Some regions have competitive advantages with specific businesses, such as skilled industrial jobs in Chicago, automotive-related jobs in Detroit and the apparel industry in Los Angeles. CDCs, business incubators, small business development centers and similar community and professional organizations can help neighborhood businesses connect with regional customers, suppliers and financial institutions.

An urban neighborhood perspective dominates the book, which would have benefited from the contributions of a rural community economic development practitioner. Spatial issues, population density and lack of financial and technical resources for rural communities create an additional set of barriers that are not mentioned in the book. Commercial districts in rural communities are competing with Wal-Mart and have a different customer base to draw from. There are also fewer workforce, educational and business resources available for rural communities. Hopefully, a seasoned rural community economic development practitioner can build upon the strong foundation laid by this book. A more detailed description of specialized technical assistance resources, which have grown significantly in the last 10 years, would have been helpful.

Despite these limitations, The Community Economic Development Handbook is a treasure chest of information and insights into the dynamic industry of community economic development, an art becoming more of a science. The handbook is well written and understandable and should be required reading for practitioners, board members, funders and technical support providers.

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