The Power of Local

June 27, 2018

By Jennifer Vernon, Consultant

In this second installation of our 2018 ED Index series, we dive deeper into the finding that local and state economic policies rank more favorably than federal policies. To further explore this, we share insights from the newly released book, Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by authors Deborah Fallows and Jim Fallows.

According to the 2018 ED Index survey results, nearly half of survey respondents describe their local economic policies as ‘good’ while less than 25% say the same for federal economic policy. When looking back over the last 5 years of ED Index responses, local economic policy has maintained the steadiest position with an average of 54% for ‘good’ responses. The national economic policy has actually seen the greatest increase, from only 2% of ‘good’ responses in 2013 to 24% in 2018.

So why is local economic policy looked upon so much more favorably than at the federal or state level? My speculation is the ability of locally elected officials (and people in general) to look beyond party lines to effect real change in their communities. As Michael Coleman, former mayor of Columbus, Ohio, was quoted as saying in Our Towns, “There are a lot of broken pieces in government. But at this level, you can be more effective, because you have to be.”

The power to effect real change was a sentiment expressed time and time again by the many civic leaders/cheerleaders, educators, business people, artists, entrepreneurs and the like interviewed by the Fallows during their research for Our Towns.

As a quick backstory, for the past 5 years Deb and Jim Fallows have travelled across America in their single-engine Cirrus airplane to more than a dozen towns (Columbus, Ohio being the largest) to get a first-hand look at what is really happening in small town America. What they experienced in each of these unique towns was very contrary to the doom and gloom of the national news cycle. These were real cities dealing with real issues, from the opioid crisis to major economic disruptions. The main difference being these cities were forging their own unique paths to prosperity, while policy and action at the national level was at a standstill.

After more than 100,000 miles in the air, hundreds of handshakes and countless stories of optimism, the Fallows compiled what they found to be the traits of the most successful or promising communities.

The 10 ½ Signs of Civic Success, according to the Fallows

  1. People work together on practical local possibilities, rather than allowing bitter disagreements about national politics to keep them apart.
  2. You can pick out the local patriots.
  3. The phrase “public-private partnership” refers to something real.
  4. People know the civic story.
  5. They have downtowns.
  6. They are near a research university.
  7. They have, and care about, a community college.
  8. They have distinctive, innovative schools.
  9. They make themselves open.
  10. They have big plans.

But in closing, successful communities are those made of people working together towards some higher vision. They recognize that achieving said vision takes time, commitment, investment in themselves, and an openness to everyone. Most importantly, they know where they’ve been, where they plan to go, and they will not be discouraged by the inevitable bumps along the way.

And yes, I’ve intentionally left off the last ½ step as encouragement to read the book for yourself. Perhaps in hopes that it will inspire you or someone you know to become (or continue being) the rising patriot for your own local community.