This is Michael H. Shuman’s fourth book on local economies. In it he suggests an alternative method of economic development that is inexpensive to implement, creates jobs, and works for large and small communities alike.
Shuman looks at the current philosophy with its incentives (tax breaks and grants) targeting large national or global companies, and argues against it. He dedicates his first chapter to a succinct explanation, supported by plentiful examples, of why the current model doesn’t work. Instead, he believes the emphasis should be on local businesses for their financial and emotional commitment to place. As part of his argument, he cites a ground-breaking 2010 Harvard Business School study that says building local businesses keeps people from leaving, generates jobs, pays local taxes, and builds civil society. An outsider company is not rooted in place in the same way and is more likely to leave when they catch wind of a better offer.
A key element of Shuman’s idea is to identify what he calls pollinator businesses, which are run by people passionate about their community and who understand that strong local businesses result in a stronger com-munity. Pollinators work with fellow entrepreneurs and businesses to find or create the resources needed in order to get off to a good start, and even flourish.
Pollinator organizations take six basic forms that Shuman categorizes as planning, purchasing, people, partners, purse and public policy, although there is plenty of cross-over between types. For example, people and planning might be represented by the small Michigan deli which offers employees the opportunity to come up with other business ideas. They subsequently added a bakery, coffee roaster, and restaurant. A Vancouver credit union with a socially and environmentally responsible history, helps finance local businesses and connects them with other local busi-nesses that can help them succeed. Pollinators are passionate about their community and help other businesses find success because they know it results in a stronger community.
Shuman spends the remaining chapters introducing real-life pollinators from around the world. Their stories relate how a business started, often inspired by watching their own communities falter before the onslaught of big box stores or other multi-national corporations. He also tells of the challenges each one has faced and overcome as they did so, including pros and cons of the idea or method implemented.
Shuman is aware that many of these ideas are often fitted to a particular community at a certain time. That is exactly his point. There is no one size fits all. Just as crops can and should be developed for their micro-climates, so should local economies. Economic development should be rooted in community – its assets, goals and vision for the future – to be effective and successful where conventional methods fail. His vision is empowering and exciting and will surely inspire communities to join hands in their effort to build a unique and sustainable future.
Joan Bailey writes about food, farming, and farmers markets in Japan when she’s not reading or working in her garden. You can find more of her work at