4 tips for community development initiatives

May 07, 2021

An enterprising discovery

Sometimes lessons learned from failing are more valuable long-term than an easy victory.

Early in my career I was the coordinator for a federal grant application on behalf of two counties and two municipalities in Eastern New Mexico. The process involved several meetings over a two-month period to develop strategies for housing, education, job training, and other economic initiatives.

We were after big money.

The Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community (EZ/EC) grant program offered $1 billion over 10 years from the US Department of Health and Human Services to revitalize impoverished communities. The feds selected 13 high poverty communities, ranging from inner city New York to the Mississippi Delta.

Photo from Wikipedia

Even though the Clovis-Portales area was not successful in obtaining millions from a federal program, the project provided important lessons about community and economic development initiatives.

1. Be inclusive.

This point was illustrated at a meeting when the city council approved the final application. As one councilman spoke in favor of the project, he said “we” should be proud of this plan that so many had worked to create. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him take such ownership in the project, because I had never seen him at any of our meetings. Evidently, he had been kept well-informed and talked with his constituents who had been engaged in the process.

2. Be strategic.

Rather than a huge laundry list, identify a few initiatives that will have the greatest impact. Know up front how you will measure the results.

3. Be aggressive.

Set a tight time line, execute and deliver.

4. Be resourceful.

Don’t count on the big grants to be the savior; instead, gather up commitments from stakeholders and leverage public grant dollars with private investment.

Working on this project shaped my economic development career in a couple of ways. Regionalism makes smaller communities more competitive. Bringing groups together to take on difficult or risky projects leads to enterprising, innovative solutions.

Lisa Johnson
Lisa is an enterprising idea person who likes to share with others to help in their business and personal success. She was raised on cattle ranches in Wyoming and Colorado. She holds a B.S. in Communications from Eastern New Mexico University and is a graduate of the Economic Development Institute. Her economic development career has spanned 20+ years and three states, with leadership roles at the county, regional and state level. She founded Orbis to enjoy the advantage of working on unique consulting on projects while being actively involved on her husband’s family ranch at LaGrange, Wyoming. Lisa is equally as comfortable in the corporate board room or in the saddle.