Our Spring Series is about growth in rural regions. But what do we mean by growth? Growth is a word that can mean different things. Sometimes it can mean different things in the same conversation, and the result is the conceptual equivalent of spring mud.
Our task in this post is to start to make sense of the mud. What kind of growth are we talking about, and how do we know if we have it?
I propose that there are actually nine kinds of growth that are relevant to rural regions.
Economic growth, it may surprise you, is not one of them.
Not one, but five. There are at least five different kinds of economic growth that matter for rural regions. For instance:
- Growth in the number of Jobs.
- Job creation is particularly important for rural regions with limited employment options, and regions that are in transition from an old industry base into a new one.
- Growth in Productivity
- Productivity growth means more value is produced in the region’s economy, for more competitive regional industries.
Jobs Growth and Productivity Growth are both kinds of economic growth, but they are not the same thing. Productive, globally competitive regional industries may create more jobs in the region – but not necessarily. In practice, businesses may also shed jobs to boost productivity, replacing workers with machines or moving jobs away to cheaper locations.
There are other kinds of economic growth too. For instance:
- Growth in the number of Businesses
- Increasing numbers of business start-ups in a region suggest entrepreneurial dynamism and a more diverse regional economy.
- Growth in Regional Investment
- Attracting investment into a region provides important inputs for other forms of growth, with flow-on benefits depending on where the investments are made.
Business and Investment Growth are a common focus of regional economic development plans, but they are not the same thing. Nor do these kinds of growth necessarily grow jobs or productivity. Investment, for instance, may be directed to a range of ends, not all of which are productive or beneficial to the region (think of absentee owners buying up housing stock).
A fifth form of economic growth is:
- Growth in Incomes
- Growth in the average incomes of individuals or households in the region points to a more prosperous population.
When we talk about economic growth, therefore, we may not be talking about the same thing. While these five kinds of growth are related, they are not interchangeable. Growth in one does not imply growth in another.
Nor is economic growth the only kind of growth that matters for rural regions. Sometimes, when we talk about growth, we’re not talking about the economy at all.
Here are four other kinds of growth that are deeply relevant to rural regions:
- Population Growth
- Population growth means, simply, growth in the number of people who live in the region. It may, or may, not relate to any of the economic ideas above.
- Growth in Human Capital
- Human capital growth means an increase in the skills and education of the population, achieved by importing skilled people, and/or growing the skills of locals.
- Growth in Amenity
- Amenity refers to the number and quality of facilities, services, and other environmental and sociocultural attributes in a region that support well being and livability.
- Growth in Community Capacity
- Growth in community capacity is an increase in the ability of regional communities to solve problems, support each another, and proactively manage change.
There they are: 9 kinds of growth. All important and relevant for rural regions; and all different.
If the aim is to Grow your Region, this raises the question, What kinds of growth does your region need? Knowing what you are aiming for will get the best results!