There have been increased efforts in recent years to diversify self-sustainable economies in small towns in the United States. Small towns face unique issues that are absent in high-density urban areas, such as declining populations and an over-reliance on one sector for their economic wellbeing. The specific research question this paper explores is what tools, strategies, and policy decisions can Michigan small-town communities do to strengthen their economic base? There are several strategies, policy decisions, and partnerships that can be created to promote economic development within small towns. Many small towns need to reform their existing zoning laws to allow for place-based economic development approaches. Zoning laws must be conducive to placemaking and not hinder it. Placemaking not only ensures a sense of loyalty, trust, and a feeling of “place” within small towns, but it will also help to increase the economic viability of small towns by promoting the relationship between residents and businesses. Facade grant improvement programs can also help to improve the appearance of downtown businesses and increase property values. Local libraries can serve as assets for small towns in training the workforce and local business community on how to stay competitive in fluctuating markets. Agritourism provides several benefits to small-town communities by preserving natural features in proximity to agritourism businesses, as well as by adding more revenue to the local economy and an influx of employment opportunities for both full-time and part-time workers. Several case studies specific to Michigan are then presented to depict the success of such strategies and policy decisions. The cities of Holland and Petoskey are recognized for their efforts to create a sense of place within their downtowns. Further, the public libraries in the City of Negaunee and Gladwin County are highlighted for their ability to partner with neighboring institutions and prepare the local workforce and business owners on how to stay up-to-date in the digital age amongst challenges presented by COVID-19 and limited internet access. The research concludes by drawing connections to the leadership, ethical, and technical competencies. Further, the research recommends utilizing a combination of these economic development strategies to improve small-town economies. In doing so, this will ultimately help to ensure that local economies are diversified and self-sustainable.
"Economic Development Strategies for Michigan Small Towns: How Placemaking, Agritourism, and Public Libraries can Stimulate Small-town Michigan Economies,"
SPNHA Review: Vol. 18:
1, Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/spnhareview/vol18/iss1/6