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Communities in transition: process for adjustment highlighted at Boston conference.

Reacting to and recovering from defense budget reductions was the primary concern of local policy makers attending NLC's recent seminar on Communities in Action: Responding to Defense Cutbacks, held in Boston.

What emerged was a comprehensive process for economic adjustment focusing on the four key aspects of strategic planning: process, methodology, design, and implementation.

The process for developing a plan outlined by Beth Siegel of the Mt. Auburn Associates, stressed the need for community involvement and consensus building.

"You cannot start to build consensus after a plan is developed. A process must be developed from the beginning which promotes cooperation amongst disparate interests in the economy," explained Siegel.

By pulling together leaders of all relevant interests to work collaboratively on community problem solving, a fair well balanced plan can be created. This process also sets a precedent for collaborative problem solving that can be reused in future projects.

The strategic planning method stressed qualitative analysis of local industry. By learning firsthand about the forces that guide local economies, the pitfalls caused by inaccurate or misleading statistics can be avoided.

Analysis of local industry, can help identify vulnerable industries and lead to development of effective strategies. Local industries can be defined in one of four ways:

[Section] Healthy: companies in stable or growth sectors.

[Section] Diversified: companies with alternative, marketable products and expertise.

[Section] Diversifiable: companies that lack marketable products, but have potential to develop new products and markets.

[Section] Obsolete: old companies with no market diversification potential.

These categories can help communities better assist local companies by giving each company the type of assistance it needs while maximizing resources and minimizing dislocation.

Once a community understands its economic strengths and weaknesses it can design a plan for adjustment. The plan should be well balanced including strategies designed to start new businesses, strengthen existing businesses, and attract new businesses.

Communies should also design plans with both long and short term goals which make use of existing resources and institutions. "Long term strategies will make your community's economy healthy, but short term strategies are necessary for citizen support and morable," Siegel explained.

While process, methodology, and design are crucial , without implementation, strategic planning is futile. Seven key principles for implementation identified include:

1. Implementation must be considered from the beginning.

2. Building institutions and networks for adjustment are key to effective programs.

3. Concentrate on building new community support and spirit.

4. Strong leadership can come from anywhere, but it must come from some-where.

5. State and federal resources are available.

6. Be careful of over-expectations.

7. Start small with programs that show results right away to build momentum for more involved strategies.

Mt. Auburn Associates recently completed a strategic planning project in Nashua, NH that applied the process discussed at the seminar. The project is now in the implementation phase.
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Author:Cunningham, Keith
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 11, 1991
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