Charleston, South Carolina's very successful Digital Corridor program is worth careful study. Ernest Andrade, the manager of the program, understands that economic development today is about making and nurturing relationships, not water and sewer. Here is a short excerpt from Andrade's article that summarizes where economic development should be focused today:
"Three key pieces of statistical data reinforce an argument that communities should spend more of their economic development resources on business formation. First, approximately 80% of all job creation occurs from within the community; second, a majority of the businesses being formed today have five or fewer employees; and third, there is an inverse relationship between high wage, knowledge-based companies and their physical space requirements."
It is the last item that is particularly worthy of careful analysis: high wage knowledge companies don't need a lot of real estate. They don't need vast tracts of empty land. They often don't even want to be in business parks. They often want to be in rehabbed downtown lofts, close to other small businesses, and close to good restaurants, where the deals are so often made. They want to be close to good coffee shops so they can meet casually with co-workers and clients. They want to be near vibrant and active downtown areas.
Charleston is a shining example of what is possible in community revitalization, and if you have never visited the city, it would be worth it to pack up all your economic developers and spend a couple of days there. Give Andrade a call and talk to him while you are there.