Local Histories

Ed Burghard A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.


Every once in awhile, a contact sends me an email outlining a new idea to be considered by the economic development community.  Mike Milkovich recently sent me just such an email outlining his thinking about the role local histories can play in creating prosperous communities.  With his permission, I have included an unedited copy of his email below.  Note, Mike provided his email address at the end if you would like to follow-up with him and learn more about creating and using local histories for your community.

Hello Ed,

I listened to most all your pod casts and read the piece on defining economic development you suggested. I also read the five year strategic plan of the IEDC. I read the core values, mission statements and strategies to achieve your goals.

I also researched organizations like the National Council for History Education and the American History Association. Their core values, goals and mission statements are very similar to yours.

Three national organizations, all with passionate committed smart people and each operating in different arenas within the same communities.

I’m in a unique position because I produce local histories and design them as an economic development piece that becomes part of the school’s curriculum, forever.

The feeder system for economic development is high school curriculum. That’s what feeds college age and above people and those people are your target audience. More specifically, social studies curriculum bears the bulk of the responsibility feeding EDO’s the talent to start businesses, attend college, etc.. The history organizations are upset because most of the funding goes to other things politicians think are more important than civics. What they are “selling” is preservation, intellectual understanding, critical thinking, all important things in many minds but not to the politicians and their pocket books. In short, they haven’t tied local history to making money.

What they haven’t done is tie local history to economic development and what you folks haven’t done is tie economic development to local history and the foundation of local money. When you do that, you get the whole community for a buy in. EDO’s focus on statistical analysis and methods that can be proven. The true foundation of economic development is an individual. An individual starts something, a business, art, invention, a school, a community, a farm. Successful people do things because they believe in themselves. EOD’s could take a page from the world of sports and learn something about a feeder system. We just had the World Cup, coming up is the World Series, take any sport that has a national or world championship and they all have one common denominator…they all start in pee wee divisions. Take away the pee wee participation and you don’t have the economic development, the dollars, the jobs, the attention and advertising in all those sports. The feeder system made them great. Let’s say they all started those sports college age and above, can you see the difference?

The Core Values of the IEDC are social responsibility and dedication to building just and competitive communities, the creation of wealth, equity and diversity. The feeder system should teach kids exactly that and it is easy to do. There are stories in your local history that teach social responsibility, creation of wealth, diversity, empowering women, courage, character, giving back to the community, the importance of education, self study and truly understanding freedom and responsibility. We do this as parents, why not in a local curriculum?

The vision of the IEDC is to make economic prosperity and sustainable economic development. You also want to enhance the image of your profession and your people and you encourage them to develop new products and services. You also ask them to take more of a leadership role and help in the development of new leaders. If an EDO professional wanted to be the catalyst of bringing a local history to a local curriculum, he/she would be doing just that. You bring this to your community and the schools teach it forever. That’s leadership, creativity, authenticity, development and sustainable all in one.

You need to take a leap of faith here. There are no stats I know of that says local history equals economic development. It’s never been studied/analyzed like that. But I do know coaching and teaching. Kids need role models, they do need to connect to their past because it does create intellectual stimulation and kids listen to wisdom.

You don’t have to design a local history. What you could do is be the leader, the catalyst. If you went to the history people with this kind of idea you will get a segment of your population that loves their community and has money and influence. When it becomes part of the school curriculum, now you have credibility. The local Chamber of Commerce can keep every kid up to date with skills the community needs. You can edit it new things anytime.

This is a new tool and the design of it has unlimited potential. You won’t have to twist anyone’s arm in any community to “sell” it. It sells itself, all you have to do is learn more about it, just like any other tool.

In plain language you’re teaching kids to think like champions, to believe in themselves, their community, their education, honoring those that came before. You’re putting in curriculum what every parent tries to instill in their kids, and you’re using local hero’s, visionaries, forefathers to tell what ever stories feed your goals. These are the qualities that give an individual the tools to succeed. That individual is your next entrepreneur, artist, designer, teacher, doctor, economic development professional. You’re creating a feeder system to do exactly what you’re mandated to do. And the history people are getting what they want, kids who “get it.”

There are two ways communities can increase talent, recruit or grow your own. When you show a community a way to grow their own, you now have all the credibility in the world. You’ve tied their kids to the wisdom of the past with the how to of the future.

If you’re interested in creating a plan of action I can help. You want a complete plan that if someone gave you a check today you could show them a step by step action plan, an already completed template and a completion date.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Mike Milkovich



What Are Your Thoughts?

Please share thoughts, suggestions or your general reaction with Mike by leaving a comment.  What role do you see for local histories in your community’s economic development strategy?  For me, this is a new idea and I am genuinely interested in your feedback.

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7 Comments so far

  1. Robert Wilkinson

    August 6, 2014

    this is all related directly to a sense of ‘place’ which largely defines the culture of an area and we all deal with the legacy of historical industry and practices. In the UK, the closure of former coal mining communities still leaves a low skilled (but high work ethic) community which takes at least a generation to break.
    Here, in North Nottinghamshire this former industrial history plus large land-owning rural estates leaves Economic Development the issues of dealing with skills legacies and relatively large (not in US terms) wide spread rural communities with issues around connectivity. All directly related to the social and industrial evolution of the area. Cities can draw a comparable picture, dealing with high land values and highly congested roads and dwellings leading to a different economic profile but one very much forged by history.
    really great point worthy of more detailed research.

  2. Kat Morgan

    August 6, 2014

    Small communities are a prime example of how history ties in with economic development. Look at the list of graduating seniors and there will be names recognized as having been here since the “beginning”: the names Miller, Smith, Wilson, Morgan, Gillespie, Brown etc. We celebrate our community history by re-creating events from the past. Albany’s Rhythm & Roots festival sprang from a photo taken of our town square in 1926 when the world’s tallest man visited here. We wanted our community to know who the community leaders were and how they tie in with leaders today. We attempt to make it comfortable & profitable for our youth to return home to live, work & play. Those recognizable names are economic drivers, job creators, community leaders and the future of our town…all tied in with the history of this community!

  3. Al Jones

    August 6, 2014

    I started using locally written histories of small towns and counties in my ED service area when I realized I knew virtually nothing about those places, let alone their potential, history, economics, or reason for existence…and the EDO organizations knew surprisingly little about everywhere but the largest community and then only maybe 20-30% of it and just what had happened the past 20-30 years or since their arrival to recruit the community to prosperity in a few months.

    The local histories reveal all sorts of still extant major opportunities, employers, industries, exportable products, past big hairy audacious goals accomplished that their grandchildren consider impossible now…it radically changes what a functional plan can be. In most I find major fires that destroyed underinsured big employers or key buildings is far more often the culprit than the national economic factors (or a company that sold out, retired, squabbled itself to death, etc.).

    And when you talk with a community and you use their own past successes, and know how they came about, it knocks down a lot of unfounded pessimism, vague goals like “more tourism”, and the crippling assumption that only vast external capital investment could accomplish anything there. Been using it since the 1980’s as the son of a history buff.

  4. Emily Crawford

    August 11, 2014

    Our small town’s history and how that shaped the economy is one of the most impressive parts of our fam tours. We created a short video to cover the highlights, so that the story could be told to a broader audience. You can view it here: http://youtu.be/5PKtVMPfWQA

  5. […] Reposted from the Burghard Group’s Strengthening Brand America Blog […]

  6. […] Reposted from the Burghard Group’s Strengthening Brand America Blog […]

  7. […] Thanks to Ed Burghard and of course to Mike Milkovich for posing this question and everyone that responded with comments and discussion. I think this kind of innovative discussion can help drive the profession and stimulate regional growth. You can read the full article at: https://strengtheningbrandamerica.com/blog/2014/08/local-histories/ […]

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