Just as in business, planning is essential for community success—whether it be at the local, county, or regional level. We all want a great place to live; but how do we
preserve what we like and make it an even better place to live? We all want the benefits of economic growth—job opportunities, tax base, and access to goods and services. Yet, how do we encourage growth while managing it in such a way that it does not detract from the very things we like about our community? The answer is to plan.
Planning activity can be as broad or as specific as warranted by the situation. It can focus on land use, recreation and tourism, economic growth, or downtown revitalization.
Most counties across the north country have a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). The CEDS process is designed to involve both the private and public sectors in creating an economic roadmap to diversify and strengthen a county’s economy. It establishes priority goals and objectives for growing various sectors of the economy (manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, and entrepreneurship), and identifies the activities necessary to achieve those goals. It includes an implementation plan along with benchmarks to measure progress in carrying out its strategies.
Towns may have a comprehensive plan that identifies the best areas of the town for residential or commercial development. It also provides a framework for land use controls necessary to manage that growth appropriately for the greatest benefit and to minimize any negative impacts. A community might also undertake a special effort to develop a town-wide recreation plan to prioritize actions for improving its parks, trail systems, and other resources. A Main Street revitalization plan will guide efforts to create a more attractive and pedestrian-friendly downtown to attract shoppers and instill community pride. Regional corridor plans, such as those for Black River Blueway Trail or the Maple Traditions Scenic Byway promote intermunicipal planning and cooperation, drawing communities together through a shared resource while attracting tourists looking to thematic travel experience. An asset management plan can guide a municipality’s long-term strategy for maintaining critical infrastructure. If agriculture is an important part of the local economy, then a farmland protection plan becomes important tool.
There are several benefits to planning. A good plan can strengthen fundraising and grant writing experience by demonstrating to potential funders that you’ve laid the necessary groundwork to increase your odds for success. It can serve as a decision-making tool by helping to decide how to best allocate limited resources toward a community’s highest priority needs. Plan illustrations for a project can generate community support and excitement by helping the general public to visualize the final outcome.
Regardless of the topic, any type of community plan followed by effective implementation is likely to support economic development in some way. While having the necessary infrastructure is important, an attractive and vibrant community can make a great first impression on the visiting tourist, or the business owner deciding whether he or she wants to build a new manufacturing facility there. The availability of adequate housing and recreational opportunities can also be a key site selection factor, as today’s businesses are increasingly concerned about a community’s quality of life and the role that plays in helping them to recruit talent.
Engaging key stakeholders from the public and private sector is key to developing a successful plan. There are several ways to engage stakeholders. One obvious way is to include them on your planning committee. Of course, only so many people can serve on a committee, and some key stakeholders are unable to commit to a series of regular meetings. In that case, you might seek their input by including them in focus group discussions, or through one-on-one interviews.
In the end, it is often the process of planning that is more important than the plan itself. When the stakeholders and the general public are informed and engaged, it raises awareness of the direction in which the community is headed. It also creates a framework for stakeholders to coordinate efforts to advance certain elements of the plan. This all builds support for the plan and improves chances for successful implementation. The shared understanding and lines of communication that are established in developing the plan also make the community more resilient and responsive should unexpected circumstances come along (like a pandemic).
One last thing ... Don’t let that plan sit on a shelf. Revisit it annually to assess your progress and, if necessary, recalibrate. Be nimble. It’s perfectly fine to change direction or readjust priorities when conditions warrant it, as long as you have an idea of where you’re headed.
A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you miss the turn. — Anonymous