Economic Gardening: A Tool to Develop Local Business Leaders

The 10th Annual National Economic Gardening Conference to be held in Grand Rapids, Mich. on June 12-13

The Edward Lowe Foundation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Pure Michigan Business Connect are sponsoring the 10th annual National Center on Economic Gardening conference on June 12-13, 2012 at the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids, Mich. The conference’s primary focus is to provide the tools needed to develop viable business development programs that will strengthen communities, regions and states.

Practitioners and speakers from across the country will convene to share ideas and teach new ways to stabilize and grow existing businesses. Speakers include Chris Gibbons, founder of the Littleton, Colo. economic gardening program, Mark Lange of the Edward Lowe Foundation and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as keynote speaker.

“Economic gardening” is a concept that was first pioneered in Littleton, Colo. in 1987 during a recession. The term refers to an economic development model that focuses on strengthening existing companies, businesses and organizations within the community, rather than pouring resources into attracting out-of-state corporations. In the case of Littleton, community leaders provided local entrepreneurs with competitive intelligence on markets, customers and competitors that is traditionally available only to large firms. This information included data-mining resources and geographic information systems. According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, this strategy has resulted in the addition of 15,000 jobs to Littleton since 1989.

The Edward Lowe Foundation based in Cassopolis, Mich. strongly supports economic gardening programs. The Lowe Foundation names three basic elements of effective economic gardening programs:

  1. They provide critical information needed by businesses to survive and thrive.
  2. They develop and cultivate an arrangement beyond basic physical infrastructure that includes quality of life, a culture that embraces growth, change, and access to intellectual resources, including qualified and talented employees.
  3. They develop connections between businesses and the people and organizations that can help take them to the next level — business associations, universities, roundtable groups, service providers and more.

The Lowe Foundation also supports “second-stage” companies and entrepreneurial organizations that assist them (“Second-stage companies,” according to the Foundation, “are those that have grown past the startup stage but have not grown to maturity.”)

Registration information for the conference is available online. Early bird conference registration fees are $150 per person through April 30, 2012. After this date, registration fees are $175 per person.

MSU Extension also offers several programs to entrepreneurs, local governments and supporting organizations. To learn more about MSU Extension programs, visit

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