Fostering an alliance of economic preservation

Rockets began red-glaring across my neighborhood several days before July 4 and continued for a few days afterward. Nearly 10,000 people lined the streets for my community’s annual parade celebrating our nation’s independence.

Independence. It’s a fundamental part of who we are as America and Americans. In late-night conversations with Australian friends on a recent trip Down Under, we discussed this as a significant difference in our respective countries. We cut ties with England, they didn’t. We speculated that this “go it alone” attitude might also have much to do with the remarkable economy that we’ve built here in the U.S. in just a couple centuries.

My friends also observed that our country, so full of mavericks, also shows amazing capacity to do things together. It is this dynamic that so fascinated French historian Alexis de Tocqueville when he visited the U.S. in the mid-1800s. He noted both our independent nature and our ability to band together in associations to accomplish great things.

That interdependence de Tocqueville noted, however, is not always as top of mind as independence is. We don’t, after all, have a holiday for it, but it’s just as important to consider.

One important aspect of this interdependence plays out in our economy. Economic interdependence is the notion that in any economy where there is a high division of labor, we all depend a great deal on others to supply the goods and services we each need.

In my area of work, economic development, independence of one community often takes precedent over the interdependence of many communities within a broader regional economy. An economic development “win” for a neighboring community can feel like a “loss” for us.

In an attempt to better balance independence with interdependence, a group of communities in a 14-county region in the Midwest drafted a “Declaration of Interdependence.”

We are dedicated to leaving our region more prosperous than we found it. To do that, we will follow these essential rules of civic behavior.

1. Tell the truth and build trust and mutual respect. We are committed to behavior that builds trust and mutual respect.

2. Do not steal, poach or plagiarize. We will not behave in ways that a reasonable person would consider deceitful or dishonest.

3. Commit to learning and sharing information. No one can predict our future. Our economy depends on our collective ability to learn and act quickly. We learn more quickly when we share information and insights.

4. Focus on new ideas, our assets and our opportunities. We will build our future prosperity on the foundation of our current assets. We will appreciate and invest in new ideas to develop and connect our assets.

5. Listen, link and leverage. We will find the new opportunities in our region by listening to each other and then “linking and leveraging” our assets in new and different ways.

6. Collaborate and cross boundaries. We are dedicated to building an inclusive region with people who value diverse viewpoints. We are committed to crossing organizational, ethnic, social and political boundaries.

7. Disclose conflicts of interest. We agree to disclose any personal or professional conflict of interest that may compromise our objectivity and damage the trust others have in us. We share a responsibility to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

8. Resolve controversies quickly. Controversies are inevitable in our communities and region. We are committed to working through these controversies quickly by focusing on our underlying interests, not personalities. We are dedicated to finding solutions that promote mutual benefits.

9. Concentrate on outcomes not activities. We will focus on our outcomes. While we will take responsibility for completing our activities and tasks, our outcomes will teach us “what works.”

10. Teach our next generation. Our children are messages we send to a world we will not see. We have a responsibility to pass on simple rules of civility to the next generation. Civility is strategic. It fosters trust, and trust accelerates the speed with which we can learn and act in a complex world.

It’s probably too much to expect a parade or fireworks to celebrate the signing of this document but perhaps others can learn from their quiet example.

Scott Hutcheson is assistant program leader for community development, Purdue Extension, and senior associate, Purdue Center for Regional Development. He works with local and regional communities across the U.S. and abroad, helping civic leaders implement strategies to grow their local economies and ensure quality of life for residents.