The times they are a’changing.
The Berlin Wall comes down. Members of the Arab League support United States intervention in the Mideast.
And – hold your hat – librarians have emerged as secret weapons in economic development.
How’s that, you ask?
Consider the following. Within the metropolitan spread of Denver lies the town of Littleton, population 33,000, an older suburb concerned about its future.
As I discussed in an earlier column, instead of hunting for far away companies and offering tax abatements and other giveaways to try to get them to relocate in Littleton, the town’s civic leaders have decided to stick to their knitting, build on the city’s strengths and add value to existing global activities.
They recognized that one firm’s tax subsidy is another’s tax burden, and that the burden is most likely to fall on the small, locally owned firms that are the source of most new jobs in the community.
Littleton therefore established the New Economy Demonstration Project to help 35 small, local businesses develop and execute plans to grow and expand.
The strategy emphasizes information.
The industrial, retail and service establishment participating in the New Economy Demonstration Project are healthy, small companies that want to grow. Growth will depend primarily on capital, sound management and timely and actionable information.
The information needed by these entrepreneurs comes in many forms. Some need Information about their competitors.
Others need to know about the many micro markets that retailers and manufacturers increasingly are using – for example, the “aging female baby boomer” market or the “young, single Hispanic” market.
Still others need information about regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency. Some Littleton companies are trying to expand into overseas markets or government procurement.
Today, a lot of that information is available on publicly accessible information utilities – large data bases such as Dialogue, Compuserve or Dun & Bradstreet.
But the big problem for small business operators is that it takes a long time to learn how to access and use those systems.
Enter the librarian.
Many librarians – including Littleton’s – are computer wizards and information utility experts.
The Littleton strategy is to invest in data base subscriptions and computer time to do periodic information “sweeps”.
Also, the Littleton library’s computer-literate staff can help small companies get access to these world-class information services that normally only the largest companies can afford.
So the librarian, not the schmoozer, increasingly will be a core member of the economic development team: He or she is a key resource for the expansion of small enterprises and for the creation of jobs and wealth in the New Economy.