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  • Writer's pictureClif Harald

An Introduction to Place-based Economic Development

Visitors Stroll a Pedestrian Mall
Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall, Boulder, CO

Place-based economic development builds upon the idea that each community has distinctive attributes that shape its economic vitality and resiliency. Unlike traditional economic development with its almost generic, often exclusive focus on recruiting new businesses and jobs, a place-based approach leverages many different strategies to invest in and capitalize on the unique characteristics and opportunities of a city or region.


Because every community is unique, there’s no standard approach to place-based economic development. Common strategies include investments in existing business expansion, new business formation, key industry clusters, workforce development, and public infrastructure and amenities. A more extensive, yet hardly exhaustive, list of strategies is outlined later in this post.


Place-based economic development also builds on the idea of quality of place – an idea championed by the likes of Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida and others - referring to the desirability of cities or regions as places to live, work and recreate. The qualities of a place include many different elements that contribute to the overall well-being of individuals living and working in a community. Key elements are the physical environment (the natural setting, parks and open spaces, the built environment), cultural amenities (galleries, museums, theaters), social connections (gathering places, community events), economic opportunities (jobs, entrepreneurship), a strong sense of community identity, and more.


These and other attributes can describe the qualities of a place. But it’s not simply the sum of the elements that define a place. True synergy from a community’s attributes is realized when they inspire committed leaders and proactive constituents to build upon the qualities of their place. The place-based approach to economic development recognizes that a thriving community is a result of deliberate efforts to sustain its economic vitality and quality of life and to enhance its resiliency.


This post is the first of three about place-based economic development. The next post will present a case study of a community well known for its quality of place: Boulder, Colorado.


To learn more about place-based economic development, here are select readings on the subject and an outline of place-based strategies.

Place-based Economic Development Strategies

Infrastructure Investments: Targeted investments in local infrastructure, including transportation, utilities, and public spaces, to improve connectivity and livability.


Business Expansion and Formation Support: Prioritizing existing business expansion and developing business accelerators and other resources to foster growth of local businesses and startups.


Education and Research Collaborations: Fostering collaborations between local educational institutions, research centers, and industries to create a knowledge-based economy.


Workforce Development Programs: Implementing programs to enhance the skills and employability of the local workforce through training, education, and vocational initiatives.


Industry Cluster Focus and Diversification: Directing resources to strengthen high productivity industry clusters, while also sustaining a diverse mix of key industries and sectors.


Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building: Cultivating an ecosystem which encourages innovation and entrepreneurship through collaboration, mentorship, network connections, and advocacy.


Affordable Housing Initiatives: Implementing policies and programs to address affordable housing challenges and ensure a more diverse population and active community involvement.


Green Spaces and Parks: Developing and maintaining accessible green spaces, parks, and recreational areas to promote physical activity, relaxation, and community engagement.


Lifestyle Industry Cultivation: Reinforcing outdoor recreation, natural products, and wellness industries and brands to broaden the economic base and amplify community identity.


Cultural and Arts Initiatives: Supporting cultural and arts initiatives to enrich the community, attract tourists, and stimulate economic activity through creative industries.


Community Engagement Initiatives: Actively involving the community in decision-making processes, encouraging public participation, and addressing the needs and aspirations of residents.


Technology Infrastructure Upgrades: Investing in technology infrastructure to improve digital connectivity, foster innovation, and attract tech-related businesses.


Preservation of Local Heritage: Preserving and promoting the unique cultural and historical aspects of the community to attract visitors and foster a sense of identity.


Redevelopment and Revitalization: Advocating for adaptive reuse of underutilized properties to promote mixed use development, create new spaces, and enhance environmental sustainability.


Quality of Life Enhancements: Improving amenities, public spaces, and overall quality of life factors to attract and retain residents, workers, and businesses.


Tourism Development: Strategically developing tourism as an industry, capitalizing on local attractions and creating a positive economic impact through visitor spending.


Green and Sustainable Practices: Integrating environmentally sustainable practices in planning and development to enhance the community's resilience and attractiveness.


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