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Asset-Based Economic Development and Building Sustainable Rural Communities

Downtown Pella, Iowa

Asset-based economic development and building sustainable rural communities is the focus of a three part series of briefing papers recently published by ICMA and written by former ICMA project manner and subject matter expert Anna Read.  (Anna now heads up the outreach efforts for the state of Missouri's rural broadband initiative).  ICMA is often asked to provide more resources and support for small towns and rural places and one look at the number of these communities in the United States alone suggests why.  There are more than 6,000 municipal governments in the US with a population between 2,500 and 25,000 and thousands more with a population of less than 2,500.  And as the briefing papers note, nearly 75% of America's land can be considered rural and this area is home to more than 51 million residents making up more than 16% of the nation's population.

In 2010, ICMA published one of its most popular reports, Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities.  It has been downloaded thousands of times since publication and remains one of the most viewed documents on ICMA's website and always disappears fast at ICMA's annual conference and other events at which we attend. And while the three new briefing papers are not technically follow-up research, they do showcase how a number of small communities are tackling sustainability and smart growth through asset based economic development.

The first paper starts off by defining asset-based economic development and provides several case studies on industry and industrial clusters, including the city of Pella, Iowa. If that name sounds familiar it may be because you have Pella windows or doors in your home keeping the warmth in and cold out.  There are other industries that help keep this small town manufacturing cluster alive and well, and as the case study in the brieing paper notes, there is a strong public-private partnership effort to recruit and develop sectors and industries that are compatible with the community's economic strengths.  Other communities in Colorado and Arkansas are also profiled in this first paper.

The second briefing paper looks at natural resource strengths and working landscapes, which often provide the basis for rural economic activities.  In this paper, a case study of Killington, Vermont showcases how one community has focused its efforts to strengthen and sustainably grow its economic base, largely around tourism and recreational amenities.  Importantly, while many on the east coast think of Killington as a winter resort area, the community has worked hard to showcase Killington as a four-seasons community with outdoor, cultural and recreational amenities year round.

Part three looks more closely at historic and cultural resources as well as existing infrastructure such as Main Streets and town squares.   Silver City, New Mexico and Lindsborg, Kansas are profiled more closely in this paper providing lessons learned for other communities considering how to benefit from their existing infrastructure and historic and cultural amenities.

You can access the full paper on asset-based economic development in small and rural communities on the sustainability topic page of the Knowledge Network or download the full paper (which includes six parts - Industry and Industry Clusters; Natural Resources and Amenities; Existing Infrastructure, Historic, and Cultural Resources; Adaptive Reuse of Underutilized Buildings and Sites; Leveraging Transportation Networks; and Renewable Energy and Local Resources) below:

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