Economic Hunting or Gardening…

Economic Gardening and Economic Hunting are two very different approaches to developing an economy.  We might say that they are rooted in different paradigms.  The gardening approach is rooted in an asset based development paradigm. Hunting is rooted in a deficit based paradigm

An economic gardening approach sets out to create wealth/health by investing in local people and their talents, cultures, passions and skills.  It is an endogenous “arising from within” approach to community and economic development.  The starting point for economic gardening says that ‘in this community we have all that we need to build a vibrant and sustainable future’.  It may need careful nurturing to help it thrive but the seeds of our future success are already sown.

The key tools of economic gardening include:

    • building open and accessible networks for local people that foster the exchange of ideas and collaboration
    • signposting to existing and continually improving support  that helps local people on their way
    • locally available, convivial and very low (preferably no) cost coaching support to help people to nurture their dreams and aspirations and to believe in their ability to develop them
    • access to affordable commercial finance for people with investment ready ideas
    • support services that recognise that everyone has the potential to develop

This contrasts with economic hunting which sets out to create wealth (often causing ill-health along the way) by attracting investment and employment into a community from outside.  The starting point here is one that says ‘our community is deficient.  We lack the intelligence or desire to create wealth so we have to attract it from elsewhere.  Perhaps some of the entrepreneurial pixie dust will rub off onto local people.  And if it doesn’t, at least we will have attracted entrepreneurs who will provide them with jobs.’  And, we can rely on ‘trickle down and progressive taxation to ensure that economic growth is inclusive. This is an exogeneous approach to community and economic development.  One that finds the answers outside of the current community or in an ‘elite few’.

The key tools of economic hunting include:

    • the creation of facilities and resources to attract companies or ‘creative class’ members to set up their homes and businesses in our community.  Usually these resources are beyond the means of many local people to access.  If you are in a facility that serves a ‘much better cup of coffee at a higher price’ than anywhere else in the neighbourhood, or if many local people are priced out of your facility, then there is a strong chance that it is the product of economic hunting rather than gardening.
    • the development of inward investment teams and budgets to enable local authorities and economic development agencies to negotiate ‘sweetened’ deals for employers to locate in their communities
    • support services that focus almost exclusively on the ‘already entrepreneurial’ as those who have the potential to create wealth and employment for the rest of us
    • skills development that emphasises meeting the needs of the employer over other stakeholders in society

Historically most of the investment has gone into economic hunting strategies.

There has been a rise in interest (if not yet investment) in economic gardening.  I see no fundamental reason why the two can’t co-exist in the same community, but they are not always comfortable bed fellows.  Economic hunting usually means changing things to make them convivial to outsiders (better coffee, better carpets and sexy furniture).  Economic gardening means making things really convivial to local people, affordable, local and accessible.

Often community based economic and community development programmes struggle to help local people to access the infrastructure that was designed as an economic hunting tool.  It is not designed to be convivial to local people, but to that special breed of entrepreneur from out of town who will pay £3.40 for a posh coffee and £20 an hour to hire a meeting room.  More often than not such facilities fail to win in either of these two market places.

So which paradigm do you work in?

The hunters or the gardeners?

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