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Cashmere's economic development effort is a great model

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The Cashmere Chamber of Commerce this week is launching a promising effort to engage citizens in developing a strategic economic development plan for the community. 

Two members of the economic development steering committee, incoming chamber president Dan Dean and former County Commissioner and Link Transit executive Tom Green, stopped by the office on Monday to explain the effort. 

The steering committee is doing a ground-up approach that gives members of the public a seat at the table to help develop the plan.   The committee has developed a vision statement for their group and done a strategic analysis. That analysis will be open to public discussion and further input at a meeting Thursday night, 7 p.m. at the Riverside Center, Green said. committee members will facilitate small-group discussions to get a better sense of how citizens want to see the community develop. They'll also use information from previous economic development plans.

Most communities go about this type of planning in a top-down fashion that meets the minimum requirements of public input but doesn't engage citizens until after the plan is developed. That's why  these plans invariably sit on shelves and are not implemented. The grass roots approach they're taking in Cashmere should lead to significant buy-in and real change. 

Another important aspect is that the task force is intentionally focusing on leveraging the community's strengths as the first priority rather than concentrating on the things that don't work. That may seem trivial, but once you get people talking about leveraging strengths and valuing the things that work, it opens up many more possibilities than wallowing in all the things that going wrong.  

Thursday's public workshop is the beginning of an ongoing effort rather than a one-shot endeavor, Dean said. It's also significant that they're focusing not only on economic development but the health and resilience of the entire community. That's important if they're going to overcome one of the greatest threats to strategic thinking — the tendency to have every organization in the city doing its own thing without considering the bigger picture. 

Dean and Green think there's great value in developing a plan based on broad community input without presupposing what the answers will be. This approach works far better than the model that most organizations use — to decide in isolation and try to sell their plans constituents. It's an approach that worked brilliantly when the Foothills Community Strategy was developed with broad input, which led to a successful $8.6 million capital campaign, for example.   

What the Cashmere Chamber of Commerce is doing is the gold standard for building community. If you tap into the wisdom and knowledge of the people who care about the community up front, people feel ownership in the effort and will support it. 

It's a model that every municipality and public agency should follow.