My friend Scott D. Meyer is running for Brookings City Council. His ideas about community development offer a welcome challenge to the conventional South Dakota wisdom about how to make communities grow.
In this explanation of why he’s running, Meyer identifies four factors that make towns grow:
People don’t move for jobs, jobs move for people. A community with skilled citizens attracts businesses. Businesses that move for people are more likely to stay and invest in the community. After all, a vibrant community retains talent, so it is in the business’ interest to make the community great. Chasing corporate headquarters with tax breaks is no longer the best way to develop an economy. Instead, the future is grassroots development focused on people and entrepreneurs [Scott Meyer, “Why I’m Running for Brookings City Council,” 2015.03.05].
Meyer isn’t knocking the big corporations like 3M and Bel Brands that have helped Brookings grow. He’s saying that we can more reliably draw big and small employers with a vibrant, well-educated populace, not tax favors.
Jobs increasingly require creativity. Everything from manufacturing to finance now demands innovative ideas. Over 1/3rd of Americans are now a part of this “creative class,” and the number is rising dramatically, especially in college towns like Brookings. What’s more, many jobs can be done from any location, so people can choose the community that best fuels their most important skill: creativity [Meyer, 2015.03.05].
As an online entrepreneur, Meyer understands that an increasing number of us workers don’t need to be in a particular place to do our work. We can thus choose to be in places that offer more of what we want outside of work.
Diverse communities are creative communities. New ideas and perspectives speed innovation and improve work. Communities that embrace diversity will thrive and will be more interesting places to live [Meyer, 2015.03.05].
Expect some critique from the retrograde conservatives of Brookings who can’t accept that South Dakota belongs to everybody, and “everybody” is increasingly different from the mental billboards we painted in the 1950s. South Dakotans of the 21st century not only are not all German-Norwegian-Lutheran settlers; they are also not all farmers and welders.
People choose a community based on social offerings, openness and aesthetic. People expect basic services wherever they go, but they move to a community based on its “soul.” Uniqueness, history and wide-ranging amenities will retain and attract creative, diverse talent [Meyer, 2015.03.05].
John Tsitrian and I might level the same critique of Meyer’s community-making manifesto as we have offered of South Dakota’s workforce development initiatives: they don’t mention the drag South Dakota’s low wages put on efforts to recruit workers. But Meyer is thinking bigger picture, about the creativity, diversity, and amenities that incubate a vibrant community where entrepreneurs come up with good ideas that generate well-paying jobs. It will be enlightening to hear Meyer discuss these ideas with his fellow candidates in the Brookings City Council race.