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Smart Growth is Smart Business: Boosting The Bottom Line and Community Prosperity

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Smart Growth is Smart Business follows a study originally published by NALGEP in 1999, Profiles of Business Leadership on Smart Growth: New Partnerships Demonstrate the Economic Benefits of Reducing Sprawl (see This groundbreaking work profiled how business leaders such as Providence Energy, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, and the Commercial Club of Chicago, were beginning to take steps in their communities to curb sprawl and promote smart growth in their communities. Citing a number of significant ways sprawl is undercutting business profitability and competitiveness, the study identified the beginnings of a major attitude shift in the business community away from resisting growth control initiatives and toward supporting efforts to channel the pattern and character of local economic development. That study identified 19 examples of businesses across the country that were addressing the threat of sprawl, and it examined how and why they were championing smart growth locally. One thread was found throughout the case studies - businesses were taking action on smart growth because it was good for business, that is, good for their bottom line. 

In this new study, Smart Growth is Smart Business, NALGEP and the Smart Growth Leadership Institute sought to determine whether the private sector's interest in smart growth had increased or whether it was merely a passing fad. We wanted to learn whether business leaders would still promote smart growth during times of economic downturn, declining profits, and downsizing. We sought to identify additional successful and profitable businesses that brought vitality and prosperity to their communities. We expanded our Advisory Council of business and local government leaders. We conducted substantial research to identify new businesses engaged in smart growth, and we interviewed a broad cross section of business leaders, including manufacturers, developers, retailers, real estate professionals, utilities, and financial institutions. 

Here is what we found: 

  • Quality of Life Is Still Critical to Business - Business leaders continue to emphasize that quality of life directly affects their bottom line and that sprawl undercuts their employees' quality of life. For example, the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group and BellSouth have a commitment to smart growth strategies that provide transportation and housing choices for their employees, because they know that they must improve local quality of life to attract and maintain a highly qualified workforce. "For us, business and environmental issues go hand in hand. We care about protecting the environment because the health of the environment directly affects the quality of life for our associates, our customers and our communities," says Kenneth Lewis, Chairman and CEO of Bank of America. 

  • Reinvestment in Established Communities Makes Business Sense – Businesses are promoting reinvestment in established communities and existing infrastructure over the costly approaches of providing new infrastructure to new growth areas. These investments are reducing costs and boosting profits over the short- and long-term. For example, New Jersey Natural Gas is working in partnership with the City of Asbury Park and the State of New Jersey to encourage the revitalization of older urban and suburban communities by creating new models for upgrading existing infrastructure. 

  • Smart Growth Is an Emerging Market Opportunity – Retailers, developers, and other businesses are pursuing emerging smart growth market opportunities to gain competitive advantage, tap new customer demand, and increase profits. The Whole Foods Market food chain now has an aggressive strategy to locate new stores in transitional neighborhoods on the verge of revitalization. By specializing in brownfields redevelopment, infill and transit-oriented development, and other smart growth strategies to reuse historic areas and properties, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, Inc. has grown from a small company to a $150 million real estate development and general contracting company ranked among the top five in Baltimore. 

  • Leading Businesses Seek to Improve Growth Management in Their Regions – Business leaders are joining with localities, states, and grass roots organizations to encourage smart growth planning and management. The Wisconsin Realtors Association, for example, is an active supporter of the state’s 1999 Comprehensive Planning Law because as the Association’s Tom Larson remarks, "nobody has a larger stake in quality of life issues or a greater awareness of what is going wrong within communities than realtors." 

  • Smart Growth Sells in Both Up and Down Economies – Businesses are making long-term investments in smart growth because smart growth makes economic sense in both growing and slowing economies. Smart growth projects are often stable investments, smart growth services sell, and smart growth public policies help avoid the costs and inefficiencies of sprawl. Despite the slowing of the economy in recent years, Bank of America has expanded its commitment to smart growth projects, dedicating $350 billion to community development over a 10-year period. Likewise, 275 employers in the San Francisco Bay Area have raised more than $150 million to invest in brownfields redevelopment, affordable housing and other smart growth projects. 

When NALGEP released its Profiles of Business Leadership on Smart Growth report in 1999, the American economy was at an extraordinary peak. The nation and the economy have changed dramatically since 1999. The country is struggling to recover from a major economic downturn. State and local governments are facing declining tax revenues and increasing demands for services. Businesses have been downsizing and streamlining. Yet, smart growth is as strong as ever. The businesses profiled in our earlier report have maintained and expanded their efforts. Many new companies and whole new sectors are now engaged in smart growth. Business leaders are reaping the returns of smart growth strategies. This Smart Growth is Smart Business report shows how building better communities boosts the bottom line. We expect that the smart growth movement will continue to grow, and that private sector leaders like those showcased here will help make smart growth the standard way of doing business in communities across America.