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Reese, Rosenfeld / QUESTIONNING CONEVENTIONAL WISDOM

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Yes, But . . . : Questioning the Conventional Wisdom About Economic Development

Laura A. Reese Wayne State University

Raymond A. Rosenfeld Eastern Michigan University

This article explores various aspects of the conventional wisdom regarding local eco- nomic development policy and policy making. Much widely accepted knowledge about why and how local governments approach economic development is based on a fairly narrow array of methodological approaches. And the conclusions often suffer from the limitations inherent in their respective methodologies. This may mean that what we think we know about local economic development might be reasonably accurate, but it does not quite reflect actual local dynamics. Yes, the conventional wisdom is true, but. . . . Using data from a large survey database of Canadian and U.S. cities along with findings from nine case studies in medium-size and smaller cities in both nations, the authors challenge a number of accepted truths and present an alternative civic cul- ture framework for better understanding economic development policy making.

This article questions various aspects of the conventional wisdom regarding local economic devel- opment policy and policy making. Much widely accepted knowledge about why and how local governments approach economic development is based on research employing a fairly narrow array of methodologies. And the findings and conclusions of that research often suffer from the limitations inherent in their respective methodologies. For example, survey research is a common approach to studying local economic development. However, findings from such research are lim- ited because of the disconnect between the standardized information that can be sought and pro- vided on surveys and the often complex exigencies of the real world. Case studies have provided the depth lacking in survey research but are limited by the typical focus on large cities and the inherent constraints of sample size. Thus, what is known about local economic development may be reasonably true but does not quite reflect the real dynamics of decision making. Yes, the conven- tional wisdom is true, but . . .

What is known about economic development is reexamined here using data from a large survey of Canadian and U.S. cities along with findings from nine case studies in medium-size and smaller

AUTHORS’NOTE: An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Urban Affairs Association, Los Angeles, California, May 2000. This research has been supported by grants from the Cana- dian Embassy, Washington, D.C.; Eastern Michigan University; and Wayne State University. Special thanks are due to Joe Ohren for helpful comments and editing assistance.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY, Vol. 15 No. 4, November 2001 299-312 © 2001 Sage Publications

Laura A. Reese, a political scientist, is a professor in the Urban Planning Program, College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs, at Wayne State University. She has published articles on urban politics, local economic development, and public personnel management. Her most recent books are (with John Blair) Approaches to Economic Development (1999) and (with Karen Lindenberg) Implementing Sexual Harassment Policy (1999), both with Sage.

Raymond A. Rosenfeld is professor of political science at Eastern Michigan University. His research interests focus on public administration, public policy, and federalism. He has published in Western Political Quarterly, Publius, Public Budgeting & Finance, Public Administration Review, and numerous edited volumes. His most recent books are (with George Cox) State and Local Government: Public Life in America (Wadsworth, 2001), and (with Laura Reese) The Civic Culture of Local Economic Development (Sage, in press).

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