Grunke column: Shared vision and individual effort will shape our economic future

Even if you don’t count yourself an expert in economic development, you’re probably aware of some of the greater success stories of recent decades. Mention “Silicon Valley” or “the Research Triangle,” for instance, and most people know what you are talking about. In our region of the country, the successes of Bend, Ore., and Boulder, Colo., are widely known.

What’s not as generally understood is how those communities became what they are today. Take Silicon Valley. Certainly the presence of Stanford University played a pivotal role in the community’s development into the hub of the computer industry. But plenty of great universities exist in economically challenged cities.

What made Silicon Valley different was the shared local vision and dedication to home-grown entrepreneurialism that converged there in the mid-20th century.

According to Stephen B. Adams, a professor of business at Salisbury University, it was a “powerful sense of regional solidarity” that ultimately birthed the region’s celebrated industry. “Regionalism helped align Stanford’s interests with those of the area’s high‐tech firms for the first 50 years of Silicon Valley’s development,” Adams wrote in a 2003 article in the research journal Enterprise and Society.

Too often, people assume that economic development is the job of professionals, or of government or of the educational system. No doubt, those forces play a powerful role.

But when we look at the economic development success stories of recent years, one truth is consistently evident: Prosperity is the result of communitywide effort, local pride and shared vision. It is about taking charge of our own destiny, determining what we will (and won’t) be; and then doing that.

Recently, Don Macke of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship published 10 keys to local economic success. First on his list was “local responsibility.”

“There is no invisible force that creates jobs, provides new investment or expands the tax base authority of local governments,” he wrote. “Proactive communities and regions can and do change their prosperity through smart, well-worked and sustained economic development.”

That fundamental focus on shared vision and individual responsibility undergirds the rest of Macke’s list. Successful communities, he argues, possess a “smart game plan” and “robust investment” that are applied through “sustained effort.” They nurture “growth entrepreneurs” through “entrepreneurial development systems” to create the “attributes of an entrepreneurial community.” They embrace “immigrants and new residents,” and pursue “real regional collaboration” by connecting the business community and “civic and social entrepreneurs.”

Here in Missoula, these elements are now coming together. The proof is in the $3 million that local businesspeople invested to create Missoula Economic Partnership. It is in the dozens of Innovation Initiative sessions that local business experts volunteer to lead, and in our numerous consultative meetings with individual companies.

It is in the remarkable number of business, government and nonprofit leaders who give their time and knowledge whenever a visiting company comes to town; and in the spirit of collaboration among the Partnership’s 30-plus strategic partners across Western Montana.

We have a smart game plan, growing resources for entrepreneurs and a welcoming culture for new residents who bring new resources and ideas to the table.

Ultimately, success in building our local economy isn’t just about filling out a laundry list of needs and hiring a staff of professionals. It is also about faith in ourselves and our community.

In that respect, Missoula is on the right track. We all believe that this is the Best Place. Together, we are making it even better.


James Grunke is CEO of Missoula Economic Partnership. This column originally appeared in the April 28 edition of the Missoulian’s Western Montana InBusiness.

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