Economic gardening is an economic development model that embraces the
fundamental idea that entrepreneurs drive economies. The model seeks to create
jobs by supporting existing companies in a community. The concept, pioneered in
1987 in Littleton, Colorado, when the state was in a recession, is an
alternative to traditional economic development practices. It initially was
based on research by MIT’s David Birch, who suggested that most new jobs in any
local economy were produced by the community’s small, local businesses. In
Littleton, city leaders observed that only 3 to 5 percent of all companies were "high growth" but determined that those "gazelles" were creating the great
majority of new jobs.
Economic gardening connects entrepreneurs to resources, encouraging the
development of essential infrastructure and providing entrepreneurs with needed
information. The Littleton economic gardening initiative provides local
entrepreneurs with access to competitive intelligence on markets, customers, and
competitors that is comparable to the resources customarily only available to
large firms. Included in the market information category are database and data
mining resources, and geographic information systems.
Since 1989, Littleton (population 41,000), has added 15,000 jobs, with no
incentives. Although no formal studies of economic gardening’s impact exist, it
is widely believed in Littleton that the concept has made an important
contribution to this result.
By the late 1990s, a number of communities (including Lake Elsinore, San
Bernardino, Chico, and San Luis Obispo in California; Santa Fe, New Mexico;
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; the state of
Wyoming; and the North Down Borrough of Northern Ireland) were beginning to
investigate and experiment with economic gardening. Major states like California
regularly include economic gardening discussions in their state economic
development conferences, and cities including Oakland and Berkeley have small
pilot economic gardening projects under way.
The Edward Lowe Foundation is especially interested in the concept and is
supporting such programs that assist second-stage companies.