Creating Economic Momentum

By Pamela Neronha

One of the features I enjoy reading in the Mount Shasta Herald are the Looking Back segments. I imagine a simpler time in the community, and often find myself laughing at what was considered an exciting event in town. These glimpses back in time show us how much has changed – how people lived and worked, and what citizens considered important. It is difficult for us to recognize that the same thing is happening now in our communities – our daily lives and how we live and work. What is missing is that we do not clearly perceive the winds of outward change that buffet us because we are living within that change.

Michael Fortunato, Ph.D. and Bruce Balfour, Ph.D. founded Creative Insight Community Development to assist small towns with new ideas and tested techniques that have helped forge new ways of creating stable and sustainable economies out of the “boom and bust” economies of the past so common among small, rural communities. They argue that often the challenge is greater for smaller communities to plan development due to risk factors that might contribute to economic stagnation again in the future. Considering risk is key, not just considering what a parcel might bring from the perspective of growth or gain. For instance, just because we decide to redevelop the Landing property in a certain way, does not mean customers or tenants will embrace the new opportunities – especially if the rest of the community shows signs of social or economic decay, or lacks adequate services that younger workers or entrepreneurs desire in their community. We cannot focus on just one part of town but must recognize how all parts of our area work together interdependently. And they all do – we just may not recognize how. That is why looking solely at market forces will not mitigate the risk of moving toward community economic sustainability. We must consider the social, political, and environmental risk inherent in any redevelopment project.

Our regional communities here in Siskiyou County relied on timber, mining, agriculture, and other natural resource related opportunities for many years. When we bemoan empty storefronts and population loss, low-paying service jobs taking the place of the mill jobs of the past, we are witnessing a change and loss of the local identity of a community. We may think that everyone in a small town knows everyone else, but frequently the reality is many people are isolated from one another in that they cannot talk effectively and purposefully about the future of their community. We do not get along in part because we fail to see the strength in the diversity of our ideas, our passions.

For our economic revitalization projects to be successful, consider these three thoughts from Drs. Fortunato and Balfour: Be more than a developer of places; become a developer of communities. Revitalize relationships, not just buildings or land parcels. “With no economic momentum in the community, if you want to sail, you will have to bring your own wind.” Like Abner Weed who recognized the power of the wind as an advantage for the location of his mill, we too can harness the wind of change to make our community more economically viable by internalizing external risk, diversifying the community’s offerings, and making certain all community members are involved to ensure the cultural appropriateness of any redevelopment.

Pamela is an MBA in Sustainable Management candidate at Presidio Graduate School, San Francisco, CA. Former Grade 3-certified operator of drinking water and wastewater treatment plants in California. Winner of the Water Environment Federation’s William Hatfield Award for excellence and professionalism in the operation of wastewater treatment plants.