By Sutherland Staff


A Fertile Garden for Utah Entrepreneurs

By Matthew Piccolo

In 1987, Martin Marietta, the largest employer in Littleton, Colo., shed 7,000 Littleton jobs – half the company’s local workforce and more than 20 percent of the city’s population at the time.1Because of this devastating setback to the community and other economic challenges, the city shifted its efforts from recruiting outside companies to helping entrepreneurs already in Littleton grow their businesses.

According to Chris Gibbons, business/industry affairs director for Littleton,

“The community wanted to take back its own economic destiny from out-of-state corporations, speculative real estate developers and low-end service jobs. It wanted an economy built from the inside out with employers who had a commitment to Littleton and would build the community as well as their companies. It wanted good jobs with good pay that would stay in the community. … Littleton did not depend on the federal government or distant corporations to salvage its economy when times were bleak. It relied, rather, on its own initiative, with a local government creating a nurturing ‘garden’ in which entrepreneurs could survive and thrive.”2

With this new strategy – “economic gardening” – in place, Littleton’s job base increased 100 percent from 15,000 to 30,000 over the past two decades and its sales tax base more than tripled. This growth occurred despite two major recessions and not spending a dime on recruiting programs or incentive packages.3 In contrast, over roughly this same period Utah’s job base grew 61 percent,4 but with population growth of 47 percent compared with Littleton’s 26 percent.5

Utah could also benefit from economic gardening as many states and communities across the nation have begun to do. How does it work?

Many small businesses are growing and are poised for greater growth – they have a good product, ambitious leaders, and plans for expansion – but they do not have the information or tools they need to take the next step. Economic “gardeners” connect businesses with the resources they need to help create opportunities for growth.

Economic gardening is an “inside-out” approach that is centered on entrepreneurs rather than large, transient corporations often headquartered out of state. This strategy makes sense for Utah since small businesses generate the bulk of the state’s jobs and Utahns are known for their pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit.

Sutherland has proposed a state economic gardening initiative that would include the following elements:

    • Economic gardening hub. Staff at a central hub would have access to the best databases and research tools available so they can provide valuable information and other assistance to entrepreneurs. Ideally, this hub would be funded and operated using private resources, but, as an alternative, a public-private partnership could also be beneficial.
    • Collaboration with spokes. Entrepreneur-oriented organizations throughout the state – public and private – would act as spokes to the hub by referring entrepreneurs to it. Hub staff would offer assistance to any entrepreneur who requests it, but this referral network of spokes would help identify high-growth firms that would benefit from it most.
    • Economic gardening coalition. State government can help bring together a coalition of government entities, businesses, and community groups committed to making economic gardening succeed in Utah. The coalition could adopt a state economic gardening strategy and collaborate with interested parties in carrying it out.
    • Consultant connections. Gardening staff would not act as business counselors or consultants, but the hub could develop a way to connect professional consultants with entrepreneurs who desire advanced assistance.
    • Pilot project. Utah should begin its economic gardening efforts with a pilot project that assists a specified number of companies with potential for growth and then expand to full scale making the program available to all companies.

As part of a broader gardening effort, the state should also reduce burdensome taxes and regulations on businesses to make Utah even more entrepreneur-friendly. Entrepreneurs would benefit greatly from a more fertile field, or “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” in which they can plant their ideas and thrive in cultivating them.

Economic gardening is a winning strategy for Utah. It could lead to thousands of new, homegrown jobs, a stabler and more vibrant economy, and more prosperity for all Utahns.

To read our full proposal on economic gardening go here.

The author, Matthew C. Piccolo, is a policy analyst for Sutherland Institute. 


1. Anne Stuhldreher, “Grow Your Own,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, (Winter 2010): 63.
2. Christian Gibbons, “Littleton, Colorado: A Self Reliant Community in the Global Age,” New Village Journal 2 (July 2000).
3. Christian Gibbons, “Economic Gardening,” Economic Development Journal 6, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 5. The population growth figure is from the Colorado State Demography Office, Historical Census Population.
4. Utah Department of Workforce Services, Utah Economic Data Viewer, County and statewide information.
5. Colorado State Demography Office, County and Municipal Population Estimates and Utah Governor’s Office of Planning & Budget, Demographic and Economic Analysis, Population Estimates.

2. Economic Gardening in Utah

Sutherland Institute released has released a new paper, Economic Gardening: A Proposal for Growing Utah’s Economy from the Inside Out.

Sutherland encourages Utah’s elected officials to embrace this approach to economic development for Utah’s benefit.

3. Winds Whip Up Power of People

By Dave Buer 

The 100-plus mph wind gusts in northern Utah caused millions of dollars of harm to people and property yesterday, but they also whipped up something else. As the powerful winds diminished, the power of people kicked into high gear.

These values – preparedness, self-reliance, generosity – are the best tools we have for any challenging time.

Neighbors with willing hands and chainsaws helped each other. Trees and branches were cleared from houses, cars, driveways and roads. People helped return each other’s patio furniture and toys. Family members went to check on family members. Friends checked on friends. Strangers helped strangers. Impromptu and fun “campouts” sprang up in cold, dark homes as family and friends made the best of a difficult situation that meant no power for thousands amid freezing temperatures. Others found refuge inside the warm homes of their family and friends or were offered hot meals. …

To read more of this post on the Sutherland Daily blog, click here.


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