Date of Award

May 2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Education and Human Development

Committee Member

Lori Dickes

Committee Member

William Bridges

Committee Member

Windsor Sherrill

Abstract

ABSTRACT

This research presents results from a doctoral study that explores a holistic approach to quantifying economic development. The mixed-methods study was conducted in four communities in Upstate South Carolina that have been part of the national Main Street Program. The study poses several important questions: What development strategies do the public value? What strategies contribute the most to the overall quality of life of the community? Further, what is the role of local leadership and accountability in facilitating revitalization, and how do they contribute to the overall quality of life in the community? Third, are there primary components of a community and economic development framework that can be utilized to mobilize community support around issues of community and economic development? These are the research questions that will be explored.

Many economists measure economic and social wellbeing solely on the financial metrics of private investment, job creation, and public resource and infrastructure improvements. Few, if any, study the most valued community attributes from the residents' perspectives. This exploratory research lays the foundation for gaining a better understanding of the types of development strategies the public values and the role of local leadership in facilitating public inclusion in policy-making.

Methods include archival data analysis, community focus groups, and an online survey. National key informant interviews focusing on state policy and leadership roles in economic development further inform the discussion. The three broad concepts of leadership, accountability, and community consensus building in the economic and community development process are also addressed. These concepts are familiar to the international development community (USÅID, 2013; OECD, 2007; and SIDA, 2014). The study also relies on participatory theory from Stiglitz (2002) as it pertains to sustainable development.

The research findings indicate that the public places a positive value on both traditional economic interventions and quality of life components in small cities and large towns. The findings also confirm that local leadership involvement is essential to economic and community vitality, and that the offering of incentives can help facilitate redevelopment. The focus group discussions confirmed that transparency and accountability are essential to building community trust, and that a common methodology or framework as developed through this research can be applied across multiple settings and communities. The research revealed that community members are willing and able to participate in an ongoing priority setting process for the future and that this is key to sustainable implementation of the policies employed by local leadership. Furthermore, each community espoused the benefits of placemaking, underscoring previous research (Knight Foundation, 2010; Helliwell, Layard, & Sachs, 2016) that social attachment to a city is an important component of economic and community vitality, and that the engagement of policy makers in their leadership role is essential to mobilizing local rural communities towards revitalization.

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