Fresh Ideas, Innovative Solutions Boost Local Economies

by Sarah Meyer, FLI Community Outreach Coordinator

Many of our local economies continue to struggle while added attention is placed on the variety of creative strategies that can be used locally to boost our economies regardless of proposed national political agendas.  As new ideas mature, become reality, or are borrowed, the quote, “The greatest wastes in life are unused talents and untried ideas” (Anonymous) hits home as Finger Lakes communities contemplate new partnerships and investments to reinvigorate their local economies and encourage fresh ideas and innovative solutions. This article highlights only a few of the fresh ideas and innovative solutions organizations and communities have experimented with to become more involved in and influential of our local economies.

At the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, BALLE [bawl-EE], work is focused on creating real prosperity by connecting leaders, spreading solutions that work, and driving investment toward local economies. As believers of local action, innovators, entrepreneurs, and business owners join to address economic, environmental and societal challenges for the betterment of and transformation of their own communities. Collaborator American Independent Business Alliance strives to energize local economies based on independent, locally-owned businesses and help local entrepreneurs compete successfully against chains, online competitors and others. Principals of the ‘localist’ movements encouraged by BALLE and AIBA are reflected through the work of particular organizations in the Finger Lakes region, such as Binghamton Rising, SyracuseFirst, and localfirstIthaca, most interested in finding community solutions to our economic woes by reclaiming and reinvesting in our local independence.

And how do you go about finding community solutions? How does a community capitalize on innovative ideas to impact the local economy and well-being of its residents? The City of Geneva has created the Civic Innovation Hub to seek out civic innovators for ideas to improve Geneva.  The Hub allows the City to connect with their community and enables community members to create change from within through fresh ideas, sharing resources and collaborating with community partners.  One idea or movement can impact an entire community as Love Geneva has through Cash Mobs coordinated to encourage a group of people to assemble at a local business and buy items to support the local small business community. The small Town of Caroline, located near Ithaca, NY, has also taken an innovative idea, the Energy Independent Caroline, to achieve energy independence and reduce energy consumption by residents. Creating change from within, members of the community of Caroline volunteer to provide assistance in implementing energy conservation practices to their neighbors, distribute CFL bulbs, and conduct energy education of their peers – all to work toward the community’s mission to produce power for electricity, heat, and transportation from renewable resources.

As many innovative ideas often serve a community’s strategic plan as Energy Independent Caroline does, so does Finger Lakes Re-Use. Focused on enhancing the community, economy, and environment through re-use, Finger Lakes ReUse was created to serve Tompkins County’s 20-Year Solid Waste Management Plan to reduce the waste stream. The ReUse center has benefited the economy by creating 14 entry level jobs. Deconstruction, repair, and other reuse services provide excellent opportunities to train skilled labor, thereby enhancing the local workforce and economy (

Identifying the financial and professional resources needed to make ideas like these a reality is often times the greatest challenge for innovative thinkers, business owners, and entrepreneurs seeking change for their communities. Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development did just that as they supported the creation of the Schuyler County Green Infrastructure Strategy which allowed for consideration of opportunities for sustainable wastewater infrastructure to be developed in tandem with a proposed municipal wastewater network. Encouraging and facilitating idea creation and providing support for resourcefulness, partnership and collaboration is hoped to transform and benefit the local economy.

Although PBS’s Fixing the Future did not highlight specific work within the Finger Lakes region, the film does provide insight to the many initiatives, similar to those mentioned above, taking hold across the nation inspiring the transformation of local economies and increased well-being of small towns, villages, and cities. Through the film’s encouragement of individuals to get involved and our existing commitment to living more sustainably, the Hobart & William Smith Colleges show that fresh ideas can become reality and benefit more than just a campus, but an entire community or region.

1)      Time Sharing– Inspired by Edgar Cahn, creator of Time Dollars, the Geneva Community Center, with support from HWS, established the Geneva Exchange Time Bank in 2011. Read more

2)      Car sharing – HWS hosts two Zipcars for campus and the Geneva Community to use via their centralized parking spaces on Pulteney St.  Read More

3)      Bike Sharing – The HWS Yellow Bike Program kicked off Fall 2008 with a new Bike Shop, two managers, and over 70 yellow bikes for sharing. Mobilizing students to access the Geneva community was a big incentive for the program’s establishment.  Read More

4)      Local Farmers Markets – In Spring 2010, Alex Hallowell investigated the potential for the development of a local produce food co-operative venture in Geneva, NY. Read her report

Ideas, many of which are generated by our students, are supported through campus programs such as the Finger Lakes Institute, Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, the Centennial Center for Leadership, and campus staff. Staff and faculty ensure that students are empowered as they pursue innovative solutions to making campus life, the policies and practices, stronger, successful and effective. Faculty and staff, who many of which are active community innovators, inspire students to perpetuate fresh ideas and innovative solutions alongside the community in which we reside because, again, “The greatest wastes in life are unused talents and untried ideas” (Anonymous).

About Finger Lakes Insititute

The Finger Lakes Institute is dedicated to the promotion of environmental research and education about the Finger Lakes and surrounding environments. In collaboration with regional environmental partners and state and local government offices, the Institute fosters environmentally-sound development practices throughout the region, and disseminates the accumulated knowledge to the general public.
This entry was posted in November 2012: Economic Development and Sustainable Community Development and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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