Economic development is largely a human-relationship-based endeavor driven by growing social capital. Yes, “business decisions” are made during the vetting process based on profit/loss statements and investors’ return on investment (ROI). However, the producers of a local economy, such as manufacturing, agriculture, and small business entrepreneurs, build wealth and grow in an environment that is productive, trustworthy, and has open, honest communication.
One measure of an environment that builds social capital is participation in local government. Show me a community truly expanding its economic prosperity in measures such as salary growth and small business start-ups, and I will show you a community positively engaged in local government.
The making of our society into a “virtual community” has some marketplace benefits but also presents a serious challenge to promoting a good environment for building social capital. Local government participation competes with media, entertainment, apathy, and understandably, the dwindling time we have with our families in modern society.
A particular danger arises when misinformation, negativity, and personal attacks become prevalent on websites, social media, and sometimes even in conventional media. A community like Lake County may have the economic wind at its back, but if enough people see doom and gloom, the economy will stagnate or worse.
Local government participation should not be conducted via your TV screen or computer screen on some blog or form of social media. Local government engagement is meant to be experienced in person through participation. The antidote to negativity and misinformation is to invite people into the perceived “fold” and ask them to see and touch for themselves.
Lake County and its cities are working hard to promote economic development and diversify our economy. But we need your help. With respect to economic development, a diversity of thought and opinion based on facts will only help us grow and change for the better. We need to build our social capital.
In our attempt to build social capital, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) is encouraging local government participation through its upcoming Citizens’ Academy. Some cities like Clermont also have a Citizens’ Academy.
A Citizens’ Academy differs from a Citizens’ Police Academy in that it encompasses a broad range of issues, not just public safety. If a resident or business owner participates in the Lake County Citizens’ Academy, they will be immersed in issues such as budgeting, code enforcement, and growth management.
Furthermore, two years ago, I coordinated a County Government Efficiency Group comprised of local business leaders. Participation here made a difference as pay for performance and efficiency incentives were adopted as policy by the BCC. I anticipate the efficiency group’s work to be ongoing in the coming years as we strive for continuous process improvement.
We need you! Diversifying our economy is not easy. Our greatest asset toward our aim is our people. Good social capital precedes any good economic development initiative. Stay tuned for upcoming information on the Lake County Citizens’ Academy.