EDITORIAL: Don’t underestimate power of innovation on local level

One must not underestimate the power of innovation in local communities. Innovation can have a transformative impact on small communities, enabling them to address local challenges, create new opportunities and enhance the quality of life for their residents. By fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, small communities will become more resilient, competitive and dynamic, thus driving sustainable economic growth.

One of the primary benefits of innovation in small communities is the ability to create new economic opportunities and jobs. By fostering an environment that supports entrepreneurship and innovation, communities can attract and retain businesses, create new industries, and diversify their local economies.

According to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, new businesses created by entrepreneurs account for nearly all net job growth in the U.S. and small businesses are responsible for two-thirds of all new jobs. The study also found that small communities have a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than larger cities, indicating the potential for innovation-driven economic growth.

Erie, Pennsylvania, has been working to develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship through the Erie Innovation District, a partnership between the city, local universities and the private sector. The district supports entrepreneurs, connects them with investors and mentors and offers training and resources to help them launch and grow their businesses. As a result, Erie has seen the creation of new businesses and job opportunities, including emerging industries such as robotics and advanced manufacturing.

Innovation can also help small communities address specific challenges and opportunities unique to their situations. For instance, rural communities may face challenges related to access to healthcare, transportation and broadband connectivity. In contrast, urban communities may face issues related to affordable housing, public safety and environmental sustainability. Small communities can develop innovative solutions to address these challenges by fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration.

Another great example is the town of St. Clair, Michigan, which developed an innovative program to address the issue of vacant and blighted properties in the community. The Project Rising Tide program brought together community leaders, residents, and experts to identify and implement solutions to revitalize neighborhoods, attract new businesses and improve quality of life. Through this effort, St. Clair saw a significant reduction in vacant properties, which increased property values. Community pride and engagement have blossomed.

In addition to economic and social benefits, innovation can also positively impact surroundings and environments. Small communities can develop innovative solutions to conserve resources. For example, Greensburg, Kansas, rebuilt itself as a green community after a devastating tornado in 2007. The town developed innovative strategies for energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction, leading to a 100% renewable energy supply and becoming a national model for sustainable development.

Moreover, innovation can also improve the quality of life for residents by enhancing access to education, healthcare, and cultural resources. Small communities can leverage innovation to provide affordable and accessible services such as telemedicine, distance learning, and mobile libraries. The Brush, Colorado community developed a mobile library program that brings books and educational resources to residents in rural areas, enhancing access to education and promoting literacy.

Innovation can significantly impact small communities, driving economic growth, social progress, and environmental sustainability. By fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, small communities can create new opportunities, address challenges, and improve the quality of life for their residents. Examples such as Erie, St. Clair, Greensburg, and Brush demonstrate the transformative potential of innovation and highlight the importance of investing in programs and initiatives that support innovation and entrepreneurship in small communities.

If your community doesn't have an innovative spirit or entrepreneurial mindset today, start changing that. If you are not adequately nurturing an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset, begin to do so. As economic conditions become more challenging, those who process these two ingredients will prosper. Those without these ingredients will surely suffer, and the community will continue a downward spiral that is very difficult to alter. Start changing today!

John Newby is a nationally recognized columnist, speaker and publisher. He consults with chambers, communities, businesses and media. His "Building Main Street, not Wall Street" column appears in 60-plus newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media, and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at [email protected]. Opinions expressed are those of the author.