Fostering resilient communities and building wealth in today’s local economies is necessary to achieve individual, regional, and national economic security. A community wealth building strategy employs a range of forms of community ownership and asset building strategies to build wealth in low-income communities. In so doing, community wealth building bolsters the ability of communities and individuals to increase asset ownership, anchor jobs locally, expand the provision of public services, and ensure local economic stability.
Effective community wealth building requires rethinking present policies, redirecting resources, breaking old boundaries, and forging new alliances. Over the past few decades, despite limited government support, new and alternative forms of community-supportive economic enterprises have increasingly emerged in cities and towns across the country as an important counter-trend to the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth, income, and opportunity. In contrast to traditional economic development strategies that use local resources to attract outside investment, these wealth-building strategies leverage local resources to generate local equity and community-owned initiatives.
A key need now is to develop and promote policies that can build upon, support, and codify these emerging strategies, especially at the state and local levels, where there are significant opportunities to enact progressive economic development and wealth building policies. As they develop, these experiments in the “state and local laboratories of democracy,” are likely to generate larger national applications.
Our new report, which can be downloaded below, is a representative survey of some key emerging best practices in state and local policy-making to support community wealth building—designed to support economic inclusion goals, create quality jobs with family-supporting wages, address generational poverty, stabilize communities and the environment, and address growing wealth inequality. The recommendations below build off our work since 2005 tracking innovative state, local, and national strategies strategies through our Community-Wealth.org website, where we have paid close attention to the policies that have helped scale and generalize best practices in community wealth building since the emergence of the field. Our recommendations also draw specifically from our work to develop a model national policy to support comprehensive community wealth building in our 2010 report Rebuilding America’s Communities: A Comprehensive Community Wealth Building Federal Policy Proposal, our 2013 invited proposal of a policy agenda for community wealth building to the Illinois Governor’s Task Force on Social Innovation, as well as our work on the ground with policy makers and economic development officials in cities like Cleveland, Ohio and Jacksonville, Florida.
In what follows, we have tried to highlight both low-hanging fruit—tested policies with proven track records in multiple jurisdictions—as well as more promising aspirational experiments, pointing towards more systemic economic transformation. It has been our experience, as advocates for community wealth building working across the US and beyond, that policymakers and local stakeholders are much more open to transformative measures than one might expect, but only if these measures are grounded in a foundation of empirical rigor and pragmatic realism about the political and economic constraints faced on the ground. We have also found that policies which mobilize broad coalitions of stakeholders in their implementation are much more robust than policies which are identified with the efforts of a single political actor. The selected recommendations below, therefore, focus in particular on “what works” and what works best when communities work together.