ITHACA, N.Y. – Congratulations! You have just been elected to the village council. Unfortunately, you are not yet an expert in land-use policy, economic development, agricultural development or roads and corridor issues. What are you going to do?
Quick education. “You need to get a fast education on community development,” suggests Timothy Cullenen of Cornell University’s Community and Rural Development program.
Learning quickly online is now possible at www.cdtoolbox.org, a new Web site developed by faculty and researchers at Cornell and Pennsylvania State University’s Cooperative Extension division. The education site went online this month.
Cullenen explains that the site provides users, from newly elected officials to extension educators, with ways to implement sound municipal development decisions that ultimately will determine their communities’ long-term future.
Limited decisions. “In many communities, making decisions is constrained by a limited understanding of the problems facing the local leaders,” said Cullenen.
“This is not true in every town, but in many rural places the breadth of problems eclipses the training, knowledge or experience of most local officials.
“Often, rural isolation exacerbates the difficulties of meeting economic development needs where staff, training and resources can be especially limited.”
The Web site offers a step-by-step guide to getting started through “charting and visioning.” Visioning, says the Web site, is a preliminary assessment of a municipality’s issues by a core group of residents.
Need a vision. In turn, visions are made by “charting,” a months-long process in which a larger group of users analyzes the ideas, identifies community goals and then makes plans to achieve those goals.
The Web site provides training in assessing the size and performance of the local retail market, germinating e-commerce for small businesses, retaining and expanding businesses and using employment data to understand the local economy.
New ag section. The Web site soon will feature a special section on agriculture. Marketing Main Street, according to the Web site, is a matter of understanding available consumer and business information and using that information to make informed community decisions.
For example, Martin Shields of Penn State University, who contributes a section on assessing the local retail market, notes, “Many downtown areas are struggling. In quite a few places, boarded buildings and empty storefronts now dominate once-prosperous streets.
“Seeking to reverse years of decline, a number of communities are initiating downtown revitalization programs.”
Success stories. Shields provides tools, such as worksheets, that can indicate the strength of a municipality’s retail strength. He shows how one rural county calculated that it had economic strength in the apparel and accessory retail sector, although sales averages were below those of the state.
But the worksheets also showed that people in neighboring counties were shopping in the rural county, indicating a development opportunity, Shields said.