The core of the plan focuses on how to understand current conditions and trends in relation to the people’s desired future in order to develop feasible strategies to move the region forward.
The GrowSMART work illustrated three important points to consider for any regional planning effort:
- It focuses on what can be controlled. During our public engagement process we heard many concerns about issues that are outside the control of partners within the RiverCOG region. For instance, many participants brought up the issue of Connecticut’s overall business climate, particularly state level taxes. While this may be a real issue, it’s largely out of the hands of the region. Instead, the GrowSMART plan focuses on building existing economic assets like its significant artist presence and tourism efforts.
- It finds a balance. Every community will face trade-offs as it sets it priorities for the future. As region with an economy built on its high quality of life, the big question in the RiverCOG is “how can we strike the right balance of growth and conservation?” To help the region answer the question, NP developed a series of maps illustrating the region’s economic infrastructure and compared it to critical conservation corridors (one of which is included in this post). The region-level view is helpful to identify potential growth centers and possible areas of conflict. Ultimately, each town will want to set its own agenda for growth and conservation. So, GrowSMART also produced a set of Land Use Typologies to help communities identify what kind of community they are and think through the policies that will be a fit for their character.
- It identifies high value opportunities for collaboration. Partnerships are at the heart regional plan implementation. In the RiverCOG region, NP focused on identifying critical gaps where a partnership approach would be essential to success. Based on stakeholder interviews, the lack of economic development capacity in many of the region’s towns was identified as a shared challenge. Most of the town’s rely on small planning staffs and volunteer economic development boards so the ability to shape future opportunities is severely limited. The GrowSMART plan recommends the creation of a regional development entity, which would create this capacity for the region.
Michael Porter has said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” By focusing on what can be controlled, understanding key trade-offs and prime opportunities for partnership, GrowSMART provides the RiverCOG region with a strategic path for sustainable economic growth.
More project info: GrowSMART falls into NP's portfolio of economic strategy projects. Our project team members included FHI and Community Workshop.