Growing a Dynamic Community

January 25, 2022 | Written by: sanford-user

an open sign that says

By John Dean, Economic Development Manager

As economic developers, our outcomes are measured by new business attraction, existing business growth, and jobs created. However, SAGA is focused on taking a broader approach to community growth. Through building connections between business owners, partnering to solve our housing shortage, or building pathways to meet the needs of our growth growing workforce, our work is diverse, complex, and exciting. While this work is challenging and time-consuming, our success, and our community’s future prosperity, depends on all of us being creative to achieve one final goal: to create a place where people want to live.

I was reminded of this goal, and the unique ways to achieve it, through a recent podcast episode about economic development strategies titled You Need More Cool (Stuff*) in your Community (you can find a link to the podcast here. It is worth a listen just for the fresh examples and ideas (arts! bowling alleys!). The foundation of this episode is that while economic developers must always focus on the fundamental tenants of growth (jobs and wages), it is also our job to create cool places that people want to live, work, and play. Fortunately, we see this happening across Lee County already.

For example, the county’s commitment to creating a mountain biking destination at San-Lee Park attracts visitors from across the southeastern United States, however it also provides another example to those who enjoy outdoor recreation that Lee County is an ideal place to live and work. Or consider the growth of Sanford’s downtown, from the Sanford Farmers Market’s future permanent indoor home to vibrant public art, multiple breweries, new restaurants, and a renowned local theatre. Not to be outdone, our educational partners are building the infrastructure to train our current and future workforce for high-tech manufacturing jobs in a state-of-the-art training facility. Indisputably, these are all, as would be noted by the podcaster, very cool things.

Yet, I think we can do better. Our downtown can still grow. We can still use more publicly owned lands to promote our community as an outdoor recreation destination. We can continue to build a more-equipped workforce to fill our current and future jobs. Each time I travel to another community, no matter close how close or far, I always note the cool things that each community is doing to make it more livable and attractive to its residents. I challenge each of us to see every empty building as an opportunity to host an exciting new business. Or to ask your visiting friends and families what makes Sanford an attractive place to be. Or, even better, ask them what can we do to be even more unique? Creating more diverse opportunities for our residents to experience and appreciate what Sanford has to offer provides an exciting challenge that impacts all our community’s residents, both today and into the future.