The Goals of Economic Development: To Create Hope, Wealth, and Choices

By Christine Hamilton-Pennell
Growing Local Economies, Inc.

In 1989, Phil Burgess, President of Denver’s Center for the New West (now defunct), gave a presentation called “Expanding Choices in America’s New Economy.” In his talk, Burgess, who is credited with first coining the phrase “economic gardening,” argued that “new hope, increasing wealth and expanding choices are the universal goals of economic development.”

These goals “invoke themes with deep roots in American culture: faith in the future, the desire for freedom, and the demand for choice. They resonate with most people….Perhaps most importantly, though, they are good standards by which to measure progress at any level—the family, the firm, the community, the region or the nation.”

More than 20 years later, these goals are more relevant than ever. Thriving communities—whether small or large, rural or urban—have citizens who believe they have options for their future, that they can make their lives (and those of their children) better in some way. People have hope instead of fear. They believe that they can find – or create – jobs for themselves. They are confident that their fellow community members and political leaders will support their business enterprises and address their social needs. They support local entrepreneurs, who in turn create or expand their businesses and give back to the community in many tangible ways.

The community itself provides adequate educational opportunities, financial resources, a trained workforce, a safety net for those in need, and support for quality of life amenities such as libraries, arts, recreational opportunities, and green spaces that make it a desirable place to live and work.

In short, a thriving community exhibits a spirit of optimism instead of despair, and offers options and choices to its citizens. Its citizens are motivated to take action, both on behalf of their own aspirations and hopes, and those of their neighbors.

I believe all of us want to live in such a community.

Burgess makes the case that economic expansion and area development follow a specific pathway. They are driven by civic leadership, which encompasses the political realm, the business sector, education and labor leaders, and community organizations. These leaders envision and negotiate the elements of area and regional development—factors such as development of human capital and financial resources, physical and quality of life infrastructure, and government regulatory support. These resources contribute to expansion factors such as a skilled workforce, new and improved technology, and improved capital availability and utilization, which in turn lead to the development of new and expanding markets and innovation within the private sector. New and expanding enterprises produce more jobs, higher income, and increased productivity. The end result for the community is new hope, increasing wealth, and expanding choices.

Each community will find a different path to achieve the goals of new hope, increasing wealth, and expanding choices. But three things are clear: each community must assess and build upon its existing assets, address the gaps in its resources, and develop a support system at the local level that creates a positive instead of a negative cycle for all its citizens. It is the task of the community’s leaders to initiate and drive this virtuous cycle, and the task of every citizen to contribute to the betterment of the community.

Community development and economic development cannot be separated. They are part of the same ecosystem, one which ultimately produces both hope and expanding choices for all its members.


Philip M. Burgess, “Expanding Choices in America’s New Economy,” Points West, Winter 1990. (Posted by Dan Ripke on Scribd,

Christine Hamilton-Pennell, “Ten Tips for Implementing an Economic Gardening Project,” free white paper,

©Christine Hamilton-Pennell 2010, Growing Local Economies, Inc.



  1. Dave Schmidt said

    Enjoyed your blog reminiscing about Burgess’ points. I applaud your referencing the empirical evidence for how these economic advances tend to occur and what they look like. One of the things I find troublesome in discussing outcomes however, is that cause-effect sequences are either implied or taken-for-granted where there are merely correlations. What I mean by that is, in order to “cause” economic growth to occur, those who want to encourage or initiate that growth, have to differentiate those forces that drive the events and those that occur alongside or post-event. The key question becomes, what types of things either do or can serve as the/a catalyst to start the movement forward. For example, if the region has had long-term low wage jobs, no primary industries have come in to break that cycle, and there are no “leaders” (civic or otherwise) that are willing to buck the status quo, the “quality of life” types of things tend never to occur in any significant amount, or not without some outside force/resource intervening. What I’m saying is that, when a region is poor economically, something or someone has to get the ball rolling. The question becomes what are those things and what can we do to bring them to bear?

    • David,
      Thanks for your comments. I couldn’t agree more! I think it is very difficult to track what has produced changes in the local economy because there are so many different factors in play. Correlation does not imply causation, although a formal statistical study using regression analysis can at least give an approximation of the impact of a particular factor. I believe that we need to develop some “alternative” measures of community wellbeing, and identify which key factors come into play to increase that. The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship has done some work in this area. I’d be interested to hear your ideas about what forces might get the ball rolling in poorer economic communities or regions.

  2. Wesley said

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s important that cities like the Columbus economic development strive to make things better.

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