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Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues
News & Media
Jan 28, 2019

Homegrown Tools: Cultivating and Curating Economic Success

NCGrowth develops a web-based tool that helps connect communities with information and inspiration.

What do a historic Tennessee railroad line, a methane-leaking landfill in North Carolina and an influx of immigrants to a small town in Minnesota have in common?

They’ve all served as the basis for economic development in their respective communities.

These case studies of small-town economic growth and dozens more were revealed during the Jan. 16 launch of Homegrown Tools, a web tool developed by NCGrowth, a Kenan Institute-affiliated center. Homegrown Tools charts case studies of communities around the U.S. that have successfully stimulated private investment and jobs creation. The tool connects public officials, practitioners and researchers to successful economic development strategies and shows how economically struggling towns can leverage their own unique assets for growth.

Carolyn Fryberger, economic development manager for NCGrowth, opened the launch with a demo of Homegrown Tools and moderated a panel discussion that featured public officials from two towns featured in the case studies. Fryberger noted that the tool, which uses existing data from the NC Rural Center and the UNC School of Government, was developed in response to communities’ requests for a robust set of guidelines for economic development.

Homegrown Tools allows users to retrieve customized case study results based on economic strategy, geographic location, community assets and outcomes. Nearly 50 case studies have already been added to the database, with more to come. In addition, existing case studies are currently being updated to reflect the most recent outcomes.

The day’s panelists told their stories of economic development success, and discussed how they hoped to use the web tool. Panelists included Steve Harrell, the town manager of Ayden, NC; Shannan Campbell, economic development planner for Hillsborough, NC; Jonathan Morgan, associate professor of public administration and government at the UNC School of Government; and Jeanne Milliken Bonds, head of community economic development for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

In the case of Ayden, a revitalized town center with vintage-influenced streetlamps, brick crosswalks and “pocket parks” has brought residents and visitors downtown for a new concert series and other events, attracting business to local merchants. Hillsborough’s proactive approach to development has included broadening the town’s tourism focus from the purely historical to include other local attractions, such outdoor recreational opportunities, a vibrant dining scene and the creative arts.

Panelists also discussed the benefit of having an “anchor”– such as a university, industry, or other large contributor to the local economy – to lure investors, and the importance of “placemaking,” in which the local community focuses on its distinctive attributes as a key element of its development strategy.

As to the advantages Homegrown Tools might provide them and leaders of other small towns, the panelists cited community and inspiration.
“We’re all busy people,” noted Campbell, who said she thought the web tool would give her quick access to ideas and contacts.

Morgan concurred, adding that many development officers might also find inspiration in the case studies. “I think folks will think, ‘If they could do it, so can we,’” he said.
Homegrown Tools is a joint effort by NCGrowth, the UNC School of Government, Carolina Planning, the NC Rural Center, the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

For more information, visit http://homegrowntools.unc.edu/.

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