For the last half-century, local governments have played a key role in economic development. With the goal of creating conditions for their residents to not just survive but thrive in place, these practices have promised residents stable jobs, educational opportunities, and improved quality of life.

Remaking Local Economies—a new research initiative spearheaded by the Lincoln Institute—is building a unique template for smaller US cities that goes beyond traditional growth-centric efforts, setting the stage for meaningful, truly equitable change.

Economic development can have real, qualitative impacts on individuals—but it’s too often conflated with economic growth. Cities tend to push for “more”—more jobs, more people, more business—without considering residents’ quality of life or ways to build on what already exists. This framing has often led to persistent inequities and local economies that put businesses before residents, to the detriment of the city.

What makes this approach unique is its adaptability, with strategies that stem from hundreds of data points and deep qualitative research to present a vision of economic development distinct from the one-size-fits-all approach of earlier eras and previous frameworks. Rather, the three-step process of looking in, leveraging, and locking prioritizes residents’ well-being and existing assets over the metrics-centric status quo that too often focuses on attracting external businesses and people.

With the underpinning to build capacity and accrue funding, individual cities can meaningfully implement economic development strategies that advance rather than sacrifice community well-being and racial equity.

Rethinking Economic Development

In her working paper, policy analyst Haegi Kwon introduces a new three-part framework for thinking about economic development—one that targets resident health, equity, and wellbeing as the explicit goals of such investments, rather than just growth. 

Read the Article

Moving Beyond Conventional Economic Development Practice: An Asset-Based Framework for Sustainable Communities

Many factors contribute to growing inequalities in the United States. This report focuses on how economic development policies and practices may contribute to more equitable cities and regions.  

Read the Working Paper

Our Experts

Jessie Grogan

Director of Equity and Opportunity

Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Haegi Kwon

Policy Analyst

Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Cambridge, MA