publications  |  resources  |  SD development organizations  |  members-only log-in   605.978.2804
   financing  |  training  |  investors & contributors  |  directors & staff  |  contact us  |  home  


 Opportunity Network
  Opportunity Roundtable
  Opportunity Roundup
  SD Rural Enterprise Google group
  From the desk of...
 Financing Programs
  Dakotas America LLC
  Capital Investment Fund
  Community Capital Fund
  First Children's Finance
 Training Opportunities
  Creating a Value-Added Community
  Growing Resources and Opportunity from Within
  LeadershipPlenty SD
  Trade Secrets
  Other opportunities

South Dakota Rural Enterprise Opportunity Roundup - Economic Gardening: A Definition

“Can someone state, in one short paragraph, the definition of Economic Gardening? Does it address the existing, current businesses or just focus on new ones? Does it direct the targeting of the recruitment process typically assigned to economic development processes?”

“Economic Gardening is growing local economies by nurturing entrepreneurial businesses. These can be both start-ups and existing businesses who want to grow. It does not recruit.”

“Economic gardening: A business development method that grows small businesses by providing critical information; developing and creating local community infrastructure to embrace growth and change, easing access to intellectual resources and pools of capable employees; and facilitates small business connection, on an affordable basis, to organizations and services useful to achieving growth.”

"Economic gardening is a client- or customer-based professional discipline or practice using a set of tools or techniques that provide an information-rich, decision-oriented environment for small, niche businesses to thrive and grow, with particular interest and focus on meeting the needs of independent, local businesses and entrepreneurs. It often uses economic, demographic, geographic and market-based information and information products to support the business and marketing plans of small businesses and entrepreneurs. And it identifies niches of information service provision, not locally and affordably available, to meet the needs of small independent businesses, and where there's an unserved need, attempts to meet the need through nonprofit or civic programming. It requires purposeful networking and ideally a team of multi-disciplinary professionals, or access to same -- or a really great renaissance professional mulit-tasker!"

“How would you compare your work with Sirolli's work described in "Ripples From The Zambezi"?

Chris Gibbons
Littleton, CO:

I only know what I read in the book so I'm not an expert on Ernesto's work. I've corresponded with him a couple of times because we have the same general beliefs - entrepreneurs drive local economies. As near as I can tell, the "entrepreneur facilitator" waits for the business ideas to crop up and then does what he/she needs to, to make them work. Probably an over simplification.

I'm a little more qualified to talk about what we do in Littleton. We have very specific tools and concepts we bring to the table which we developed over the last twenty years (database searching, GIS, web optimization, temperament, complexity science, network theory, etc.). I'm always careful to note that EG is not the tools however, as they have (and will) change over the years. EG is the simple idea that entrepreneurs create jobs and a community has the choice of growing their own entrepreneurs or trying to get someone else's entrepreneurs to come to the community.

I've been asked several times about where the boundaries of EG are--and what makes it different from all the other business assistance programs out there. I think one thing that sets us apart is the fact that we don't focus on movement. If you recruit, the focus is on getting a company to move from one place to another. And typical BRE programs focus on keeping companies from moving out. In both cases, it is about movement and that takes you down a different road in trying to address the problem. Our focus is on growth.

My experience with BRE programs is that they are always behind the curve....they find out about some company who may leave and then they scramble putting together a committee of the mayor and key business leaders to find out what the community has to do to keep them. Sometimes they put big incentive packages together to stay...and there are just enough examples of companies taking those packages and then downsizing or dying or leaving anyway so that the concept seems flawed. A company often leaves because it is either in financial trouble or it needs cheaper operating cost or better input factors (specialized labor, university research, industry support, etc.)

In any of these cases, think about what is being proposed: Either the community is going to subsidize a financially trouble company....or it is going to lower standards of living so operating costs will be cheaper for the company.....or it is going to educate its labor force, build a university and develop an industry cluster which makes it a better place to do business. The latter is a good idea (and actually at the core of EG) but it takes time. It can't be done in the next 30 to 60 days. EG is not event focused; it is long term trend. If the factory is leaving town and you have to do a deal in the next two months, EG can't help. It's not deal oriented. It takes years to put all the elements in place to make a community a nurturing environment for entrepreneurs. But once it is in place, it's very difficult to take the local economy down.

Because we focus on growth, it puts us on a completely different path. Our orientation is to help companies be competitive. As such, our tools are much more advanced than normal business assistance programs-high end corporate level tools that most small businesses not only don't use, they often don't even know they exist. And our tools are based on an 80/20 rule....a few things are really important and a lot of things are a little bit important. Keeping books and developing ads and hosting networking meetings are helpful....but a business is not going to live or die with these. Developing core strategy, finding markets, developing the right team and creating targeted marketing lists are hugely important. If you can't find a market and develop an organization to meet that market's needs, the rest falls off into irrelevance. It's like a car-if you can't get gasoline and spark there, it really doesn't matter if the tires are not aligned or the timing is off. Solve the critical things first.

The other aspect that sets EG apart is that it is an open source idea - a lot of people are working on it, adding ideas, testing things, questioning things. It gives it an inherent strength and vitality to help the idea adapt and change. It is the Linux version of economic development. And while there is a lot of argument about "what to leave in and what to leave out" (as the Bob Seger lyrics say), the principle for sorting this out is best practices. Best practices means that you have to have tried something for a while and seasoned before it can make the list. Not every new idea gets included just because someone decides it is EG. But "best practices" also means that it's best practices will be replaced by newer, better stuff coming up which has been thoroughly road tested.

A good example is search engine optimization which we learned from Terry O'Keefe in Oakland. This has turned out to be a major, practical and useful tool which generates immediate increases in sales. Three years ago we didn't know about it and today it is one of our top recommended tools. I also think that EG organizations look very much like the entrepreneurs they are trying to help: quick, adaptable, customer service driven, innovative, high quality. My first cut on hiring EG staff is that they are passionate about entrepreneurs. If they don't get sleep at night because they are thinking about newer and better ways to do things, then I want to talk to them. My experience is that most of the people who have found their way to this list are passionate about entrepreneurs in their own corners of the world-and what Econ-dev has allowed us to do is to find other people like ourselves.

“I certainly think we are like minded with respect to our thinking on economic gardening and growing communities (and economies) from within. However our approach appears to be different. At the Sirolli Institute we focus on working with a representative group of 50-60 people from within the community who believe that local enterprise has a role in the development of the local economy and want to learn how to support local people to come forward to get help and support to explore their ideas, dreams and passions and see if they can use them to make a living. Our approach is person centered and works 1 person at a time. We help the local community to recruit, train and develop a professional person centered enterprise coach - or Enterprise Facilitator - as we call them to tap into this invisible world of dreams and passions. The role of Enterprise Facilitation is not to initiate ideas or to motivate people. It is to provide free, caring, confidential and competent support to anyone in the community who has an idea that they want to explore to see if it could lead to a way to feed themselves and their family. The projects therefore learn to respond to what is in the heads and hearts of local people, to their aspirations and dreams. If you are interested you can find out more at or visit our blog at We also have an online forum at


629 S. Minnesota Ave.
Suite 201
P.O. Box 2282
Sioux Falls, SD

ph 605.978.2804

publications · resources · SD development organizations · member login · contact
financing   ·    training    ·    investors & contributors   ·   directors & staff   ·   home