Delivering The American Dream

Ed BurghardTake a look at recent headlines:

The American Dream is Dead and Good Riddance

The American Dream is Alive, But Unrecognized

It’s Unfortunate We Deny Others The American Dream

China Buys Big Into The American Dream

Is it any wonder we are confused about the American Dream?  It is one reason I feel the Xavier university research into the American Dream is so important to our country.  We need to have a good understanding of what the American Dream is and how to measure it if we hope to enable more residents to achieve their American Dream.

I thought it would be helpful to ask some thought-leaders in the economic development profession for their insight into how focusing attention on the American Dream might impact the economic prosperity of our Nation.

Love to have you add your thoughts as a comment to this post.

A recent poll by CNN suggests 59% of Americans feel the American Dream is unachievable. What are your thoughts regarding the authenticity of the American Dream?

Jim Walton: Without a doubt, the American Dream means something different for each of us. Millennials are less focused on home ownership and are much less likely to take a job in a community that doesn’t meet their lifestyle expectations. Economic developers promoting their community as “family friendly” may actually be turning young people without children away. Why should a twenty-five-year-old single person move there? His or her American Dream is different than that of a baby boomer.

James Glover: I think the American Dream is still very important. We all need to strive for something. This poll suggests that communities need to work harder to provide an environemnt where its residents and business owners feel they can achieve the American Dream.

Jim McGraw: The American Dream is valid, relevant and valuable to the notion of aspirational planning and living. It is widely different in quantity and quality for its focus and requires extensive inclusion in the building process to make it a SHARED American Dream. If it is left to be an individual American Dream, the concept will never fulfill its premise of helping to make PLACES better.

Xavier University’s study of the American Dream suggests job availability is only one driver of the American Dream. Do you think the economic development profession should broaden its performance evaluation beyond job growth to include evaluating progress in enabling residents to achieve their American Dream? If yes, how would the dialogue change?

Jim Walton: This would require an industry-wide shift. Not until a few trend-setters develop ways to measure success based on the individual achievement of the American Dream will anything change. Communities with a history of attracting tech expert millennials will likely write a new definition.

James Glover: This is a big “YES.” I am currently working on a regional comprehensive economic development stratregy. We are looking at job creation but also adding a lot of weight to project readiness, investability, its catalytic nature and also factors that relate to the American Dream Composite Index, the 6 Pillars (Florida), the Factors of Wealth, etc. Economic Development can no longer be just about job creation.

Jim McGraw: Indeed yes, the economic development profession exists to help make life better for its family, i.e. those residents and companies in the particular economic development organization’s footprint. The ED profession has to be careful to not take too much of the credit for good American Dream progress. In this regard, ED folks tend to be like politicians. The dream will change as the focus moves from quantity to quality. This is where the profession is moving anyway. The American Dream just accelerates this in a more meaningful way.

Xavier University research has found 64% of residents would consider relocating to a community where it is easier to achieve their American Dream. What are the possible implications economic development professionals should be thinking about?

Jim Walton: As a marketing professional with a media background, I learned years ago to think about audiences in different categories. For example, an advertising message targeting men 35 to 54 years of age would be completely different than a message targeting teen girls. Similarly, economic developers may need to segment their community in order to define the differing expectations for each group. The needs of a family with teen children are much different than those of young men and women with no children.

James Glover: This is the writing on the wall. Develop a community that is attractive to people to live, work and recreate and they will find you. From a branding perspective this can be a unique differentiator for a community.

Jim McGraw: The American Dream pushes quality and therefore necessitates that the ED professional must focus much more on infrastructure, education and marketing of its image and brand. There will continue to be much more concentration on sense of place and quality of place and branding of place.

Most community strategic plans fail in the deployment state rather than in the design stage. Do you think the economic development profession should take on accountability for facilitating the strategic design and deployment process for the communities they serve?

Jim Walton: “Accountability” may be a bit too strong of a word for such involvement. I definitely think economic developers have a role to play in the development of their communities. I would suggest that communities recruit people from their target demographic to help steer the effort. What do older men know about attracting young singles?

James Glover: I think they can be keepers of the vision and keep asking project managers what they can do to make the any given project or program a success. Keeping the projects going and providing momentum and collaboration is vital for success.

Jim McGraw: Implementation/deployment is the key to all of this. Strategy is not difficult. Rather, execution is difficult. Especially to keep it sustained with the leadership of a given community. The economic development profession should definitely take the responsibility for deployment of the process. There is no one else. Without a strong EDO with top tier staff and private sector leadership, the public sector tends to gravitate toward this notion that it is their responsibility for deployment. That is somewhat true and somewhat valid. However, the best deployment/execution/success will almost always come from the private sector.


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4 Comments so far

  1. Mark Brbash

    July 12, 2014

    Conceptually, I agree with the idea that success in economic development is more than just “the deal.” The challenges to broadening our activities is complicated by politics, available resources, competition with other actors …and other issues. My sense is that the way to approach this is to continue expanding our partnerships. A few years ago, as we were confronted with workforce issues, our partnerships expanded to include colleges and universities, public and private education, and the like. We now have to look at affordable housing as a driver. One by one, we should evaluate aspects of The American Dream into ED practice.

  2. Edward

    July 12, 2014

    Mark – Great point about enabling the American Dream being complicated. I think your idea of partnerships (or collaborations) is spot on. But, in my experience so far the easiest way to stimulate the partnerships is for a community to embrace enabling the American Dream as its strategic imperative. In doing so, it provides a unifying objective for groups to “hitch” their mission to. I have yet to find any group involved in economic development (from community developers to port authorities to traditional EDOs) that do not see their work aligned (at least in part) with enabling residents to better achieve their American Dream. And, once you have a unifying objective, the task of creating an aligned strategic plan to help guide choices on asset creation, infrastructure investment and public policy becomes much simpler. It also increases the probability of successful execution of the plan. Since not every community faces the same challenges in enabling the American Dream, the dimensions each chooses to focus on tackling need to reflect their unique challenges. Ohio (where you and I live) appears to be national average on virtually every dimension except civic participation, safety in travel, and trust in government. If elected officials and ED professionals want to better enable Ohioans to achieve their American Dream, insights into why Ohioans feel particularly challenged in these three dimensions should be developed and strategies created to eliminate identified barriers. Since Columbus, Ohio qualified as an American Dream City in 2013, we should be optimistic the state can achieve American Dream status as well if it focuses on addressing the right priorities.

  3. Marta Vallejo Arenaz

    August 18, 2014

    America´s Brand stands for a place of opportunities, success and hapiness. USA Soft Power has done a lot for it, inside and outside the country.

  4. Edward

    August 18, 2014

    Marta – You are right, and you will find the Xavier University research into the American Dream interesting. It is defined by 35 unique dimensions.

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