How to Write a Community Economic Development Plan (Step-by-Step)

Every community must consider its growth and prosperity on a number of levels. Population and diversity play an important role. Sharing cultural traditions and festivals, sponsoring community-building programs, and maintaining community spaces are important. But you also need a community economic development plan in order to see your community flourish. 

Economic development planning is how any city manager, city administrator, council, or community organization can foster positive economic growth, encourage financial prosperity and healthy commerce, and provide the funds needed to maintain community resources. 

If you have never built a community economic development plan before, you are not alone. Many people are investing in their communities and getting involved every year, and it’s always helpful to learn the essentials of community building. 

This article outlines a step-by-step guide to the economic development planning process.

What is a Community Economic Development Plan?

A community economic development plan is a strategic framework that outlines a community’s goals and actions for fostering economic growth, improving the quality of life for residents, and enhancing the overall well-being of the broader community.

An economic development plan can include a wide variety of initiatives, actions, and resource management decisions designed to shift the community’s economic development in a positive direction. Here are a few useful examples that often appear in community development plans and economic development strategies:

  • Providing resources and incentives for new businesses
  • Supporting entrepreneurs and startup businesses
  • Attracting advanced industries and higher-paying jobs
  • Applying for grants to support community development
  • Providing job training for locals
  • Improving the appearance, sustainability, walkability, and desirability of your community spaces

The economics of a community are complex. You want to encourage new businesses and the growth of local businesses. You aim to help residents achieve financial success and attract successful residents to your community. 

This requires you to coordinate efforts across multiple groups, populations, and local industries to achieve your vision of a brighter economic future. From these values, you can identify your community’s financial goals, which will become the driving focus of your economic development plan.

At the same time, your plan should also address the potential economic challenges faced by your community. For example, crumbling architecture, aging community properties, a low regional income level, or even environmental challenges like harsh winters might discourage new businesses or residents from moving in.

Each challenge can be answered with potential solutions and plans of action to help counterbalance the drawbacks you might face.

How to Write a Community Economic Development Plan

A community economic development plan is usually drafted by a city council, planning committee, or sometimes by an organization assembled from the community without guidance from an official governmental body. However, the process of writing a community development plan is essentially the same, and follows these steps:

1. Community Assessment

Start by assessing the community in its current economic state. Consider what is working and what could be improved. 

You will likely want to conduct studies and collect existing data on the economic success and progress of your community as it is today. Your city treasurer can give you perspective on the economic landscape. Your city clerk can also pull up relevant records and documents.

Most economic development plans last about three to five years before changes require a new plan to be drawn up, so consider this your scope.

2. Goal Setting and Visioning

Start with a vision of your community in five years, given the right economic planning. Think realistically about project times and the progress you can make within three to five years of intentional actions to grow your community’s economic prospects.

Use this vision to then set realistic goals. Separate the goals into actionable steps and milestones that can be followed and measured over the next three to five years. You can also lay out a few core values to use as your guiding light during the implementation of your community development plan.

3. Market and Industry Analysis

Look into market and industry reports and perform an analysis of how you can improve your community by addressing the current industry landscape. Could you benefit by bringing in more businesses of a certain type? Should you re-invigorate your downtown area to attract new businesses to the empty storefronts? 

A market and industry analysis can reveal where your community has room for economic improvement. It can also reveal some of the distinct challenges you will need to overcome.

4. Action Planning

Once you have set your goals and clearly understand your starting position, it’s time to plan for action. Determine the right steps to foster business growth, improve the job skills and prospects of your community, and make your community a more desirable place to live and work.

These steps could include: 

  • Provide business resources, incentives, and support for new businesses in the area. 
  • Design community land improvements, making streets and parks more appealing and rewarding for residents. 
  • Organize cultural festivals and community events to draw activity back to your most charming centers of commerce.

Action planning for community economic development can be quite diverse. Remain practical, but don’t be afraid to get creative.

5. Implementation and Monitoring

Finally, put your plans into action and monitor their progress. Set milestones and metrics to determine if your plans are progressing and if they are achieving your economic goals. 

After a few years have passed, your community will be in a new economic landscape and ready to rebuild the community economic development plan for another three to five years of growth.

eScribe Powers Effective Cities

eScribe provides a full toolkit of community council management tools that can benefit any community on the rise. Whether you are a city council, a nonprofit board of directors, or an organization of residents working together on community development, you can benefit from the useful features of the eScribe meeting management platform.

The platform enables users to put together reports and city council meeting agendas with ease, record meeting minutes, take votes, and streamline workflows. 

Ready to see how eScribe helps municipalities streamline operations and enhance local governance? Check out the City of Greensboro Case Study.