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Revisit Your Community’s Unique Assets: Connecting Asset-Based Economic Development to Community Transformation Strategies


Solano's Boot & Western Wear, Raton, New Mexico

The Main Street Four Point Approach has been leveraging unique, local assets to achieve economic revitalization success in historic downtowns and commercial districts for decades. But with the recent introduction of the refreshed Four Point Approach, many programs will find the need to make some strategic changes in their approach and planning for both short- and long-term projects and activities. This need for change results from the heavy emphasis on three components of the refreshed Main Street Approach: identification of the community vision for success, development of community transformation strategies, and measurement of the impacts of the program’s work.

This move toward more integrated work across the Four Points, versus keeping each point in a silo, creates the opportunity for a more thoughtful and strategic approach to the work we are doing in our communities, as does revisiting the community vision and market realities for the district. As you identify your community vision and develop your Community Transformation Strategies, it is important that each individual community conduct an asset inventory to help guide that process.

Asset-Based Economic Development

Conducting an asset inventory is a key step in implementing an asset-based approach to economic development. Classic economic development is traditionally a large-scale, “top down” approach, endeavoring to recruit employers in industries such as manufacturing and technology, to relocate their businesses (and jobs) to a new state or community. Asset-based economic development is a “bottom up”, community-driven approach that focuses on utilizing existing assets in a community to positively impact its economy. The latter is a concept that Main Street practitioners should be very familiar with, though they may not be familiar with the terminology.

Asset-based economic development is based on two main principles:

  1. Appreciating and mobilizing individual and community talents, skills and assets; and
  2. Community driven development, rather than development driven by external agencies.

There are five keys to asset-based economic development:

  1. Appreciative Inquiry:  Identify and analyze the community's past successes.
  2. Social Capital:  Leverage the power of associations and informal linkages within the community.
  3. Participatory Approaches:  Build empowerment and ownership in the community economic development process.
  4. Collaboration:  Establish community economic development practices that place priority on collaborative efforts.
  5. Civic Engagement: Engage people as citizens (rather than clients) in development and how to make local governance more effective/ responsive.

Carlsbad Downtown Farmers' Market, Carlsbad, New Mexico

Conducting an Asset Inventory

An asset inventory provides the basis for bringing your community’s vision to fruition.

There are at least six categories of assets in every community: individuals, physical assets, associations, institutions, local economies and history/plans. When implementing Main Street work, an additional asset category of funding sources should be included, as asset-based economic development (like all economic development) requires dollars for success.

Engaging community members, district stakeholders, board members and volunteers in the inventory process can increase the likelihood that all potential assets are captured.
The website can help your organization create a visually attractive asset diagram that can be edited by multiple users, shared electronically and downloaded as a PDF or PNG to be easily inserted into presentations and documents. This diagram provides an example of some of the assets that a Main Street district might identify to help guide its work.

Graphic generated by

After conducting the inventory, your organization will want to evaluate the identified assets and their potential benefit by:

  1. Looking at how the assets can be leveraged
  2. Determining what the value of developing a particular resource or asset will be
  3. Determining who the development of a particular asset will benefit
  4. And evaluating what additional inputs will be needed to fully leverage the asset.

Mobilizing Your Assets

If your organization is undertaking a Community Transformation Strategy that involves expanding the district business mix, you might want to focus on assets that would support a project such as a business incubator program.

Your organization can then mobilize those assets into the following actions:

  1. Create a network of experts for entrepreneurs to consult with for free or reduced rates
  2. Negotiate reduced rent rates with interested vacant property owners
  3. Utilize volunteers and donated goods where possible for physical improvements to buildings
  4. Work with City/County to develop recruitment incentives, such as reduced fees and taxes
  5. Create a list of, and solicit, existing businesses or new entrepreneurs to move into the space

WPA-era Eddy County Courthouse, Carlsbad, New Mexico

Measuring Your Project Success

Determining the success of your project can be achieved by developing measurable outcomes for your actions.

For a business incubator program, those might include:

  • Number of vacant building(s) filled
  • Number of new employees in the district
  • Number of additional businesses in the district
  • Number of additional customers drawn to the district
  • Increase in Gross Receipts Tax
  • Increase in Property Taxes
  • Number of incubated businesses that hire additional employees
  • Number of incubated businesses that expand into bigger spaces


Asset-based economic development encourages developing a comprehensive inventory of your district and community assets, and then allowing those assets to guide your organization’s strategies, projects and activities. As your organization revisits its community vision and develops its Community Transformation Strategies, an asset inventory will assist your organization as it introduces the refreshed Main Street Approach to its board and volunteers.

For an in depth analysis and examples of asset-based economic development at work, visit the ICMA website for a briefing paper from the ICMA Center for Sustainable Communities titled Asset-Based Economic Development: Building Sustainable Small and Rural Communities.