When coming up with a strategic plan for your community, have you thought about the green aspects of development?
You would be wise to do so.
The booming region of Northwest Arkansas provides an excellent example for communities and regions that wish to focus on sustainability.
Sustainability is more than a buzzword. If you plan properly, it could help drive your economy.
Several years ago, business and civic leaders across Northwest Arkansas came together and looked at the region’s assets.
♦ It’s the headquarters for Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt.
♦ It’s the home of the University of Arkansas.
♦ It has a nationally recognized quality of life and a culture of frugality, hard work and entrepreneurship.
♦ The University of Arkansas has an applied sustainability center.
♦ Northwest Arkansas Community College has a sustainability training program.
♦ Wal-Mart launched a sustainability initiative back in 2005.
These leaders, however, decided that good isn’t good enough.
They wanted to fuel a new wave of development that would ensure high-tech jobs, graduate retention and an international reputation for expertise in a technology that could attract research dollars and jobs for generations.
Sustainability was the key. They would paint the region green.
To build on what they already had in Northwest Arkansas, they decided to form Green Valley Development, a not-for-profit business that could nurture local companies and recruit sustainable businesses and technologies.
The organization’s mission statement reads,
“Green Valley Development will connect the world’s best sustainability innovators, grow local companies, recruit new companies and technologies; then coordinate just-in-time delivery of the capital, resources and services needed for a Green Valley company to excel in the world market.”
In 2009, Green Valley received one of the Innovator Awards from the Southern Growth Policies Board.
A 2007 Washington Post article stated,
“It may seem an unlikely place for a green revolution, far from such traditional environmental strongholds as Portland and Seattle, but local officials hope Fayetteville will become to sustainability what Detroit is to the automotive industry and the Silicon Valley is to technology.
In fact, they’ve coined their own term for the vision: Green Valley.”
Since that time, Green Valley president Steve Rust has been working to build a science, business and technology cluster that focuses on sustainability. He’s hoping to leverage the assets that already are in the region to impact economic development.
What are you doing to leverage the assets in your area?
The folks at Green Valley like to cite this equation:
A strong economy equals a strong tax base equals more money for schools and municipal services equals a higher quality of life.
Wal-Mart’s ambitious sustainability initiative was designed to reduce waste, use renewable energy and sell more sustainable merchandise. The company’s many suppliers were urged to follow in Wal-Mart’s footsteps.
This created an immediate demand for clean technologies and sustainability practices that can add to a company’s bottom line. A wave of start-up companies began developing the technologies needed to help the suppliers prove their green credentials.
Green Valley is trying to bring it all together as it connects the educational, research and business sectors. Green Valley has created relationships with private equity groups across the country who might have an interest in investing in the region.
As Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School wrote,
“The enduring competitive advantages in a global economy lie increasingly in local things — knowledge, relationships and motivation that distant rivals cannot match.”
Could a sustainability initiative be a part of the community development mix where you live?