Saturday, August 22, 2009

Community Supported Development

My mission is to create as many small, sustainable enterprises as possible. Working with Mark on the Driftless Foods / Iowa County initiative I've come to believe that the best way to create large numbers of new enterprises is by building new local economic infrastructure designed to support them.

Mark and I have been talking about community supported development (CSDs) as a new piece of economic infrastructure whose time has come. It is a model we'll pursue for growing Driftless Foods.

Much as community supported agriculture (CSAs) seeks to create long-term vibrant farms in local communities, CSDs would seek to build long-term vibrant enterprises of all kinds into local communities.

The CSA metaphor is intended. In a bad year you'll get a smaller basket of produce. In a good year you're awash in zucchini. What if the returns were dividends not veggies?

Community supported development can be a tool for creating, funding, and growing long-term local economic infrastructure in communities and regions. With a little planning, this infrastructure can be designed to strengthen market-based local entrepreneurship for generations.

The infrastructure supplied by community-supported development can be digital, and/or brick and mortar capacity, and certainly many other manifestations. In our case we are trying to create a platform for moving large quantities of regional foods into a processing and distribution system geared toward mid-tier farms. This will require the creation of a legal entity capable of organizing that kind of effort; the building of a physical structure robust enough to do this efficiently; and the wiring up of social networks that will enable this project to move forward. Some of this is old-fashioned shoe leather, but much of it will involve investing in the tools to needed to launch and grow this community effort.

In our case we are trying to create a community based economic development platform that will not only benefit local enterprise but critically, community investors as well.

Community supported development would employ judicious early use of funds available from public sources such as grants and loans from economic development sources in government and

People from the community and the region should also be able to invest and benefit from this development as well. This is the heart of community supported development. Not only would local entrepreneurship benefit, but community investors would also benefit.

Community also implies those of like mind. If a place for an investment from the wider community is available that should be available to supporters wherever they are.

Sound legal structures can be put in place to allow individuals and local entities to invest in this way.

There is, thankfully, no 'one' right way. Many traditional investing formats will work. There are also new legal forms of organization emerging all over the country, state by state, that are allowing many creative new ways to create and build sustainable entrepreneurship.

So, how do you organize that? Clearly you hard wire self-interest into the equation. You just can't talk about win-win. The system needs to DO win-win. Sustainable = repeatable. Over and over. Mutual self-interest is a repeatable platform.

Our job as economic developers is to build win-win into the equation from the beginning with the entire community in mind.

The local benefits derived from community sponsored development will be greater economic diversification and security. More capital will circulate locally. People and local organizations of all kinds will also reap the benefits of living in an economy that grows entrepreneurs.

The regional benefits of this kind of economic development will grow immediately. As more and more of these new startup enterprises are created and nurtured they will begin to interact in mutually self-interested ways. This will benefit the entrepreneur organizations and create region-level community supported development platforms.

I know that multi-state benefits will accrue as this model builds out. The wider an area that can be knit together by self-interest, the more chances there are for finding and growing profitable partnerships for all involved. Our previous startup used this very model as we grew our fluid recycling business. We knit together partnerships all across the upper Midwest. As projects came and went, unique multi-state coalitions of these partners would come together on demand.

What's needed are more partners. We need to create the infrastructure for entrepreneurship to thrive.

Community supported development is an idea whose time has come.

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