By: Dr. William Hatcher
EKU’s MPA program places a strong emphasis on the management of local communities. Through our courses in the community development concentration, students gain an understanding of how to help cities and counties improve their overall well-being. The courses do this by examining community development through two main lenses: the assets model of development and the concept of vision-building.
Throughout the nation, many officials, with great intentions, are struggling to develop their communities because they are trying to answer the wrong set of questions. These officials are asking: What do we need? What are our challenges? These are important questions, but by focusing solely on needs, communities often do not acknowledge and seek to develop their current assets. For example, reporting by the New York Times has highlighted the amount of taxpayer dollars that state and local governments spend on incentives to attract and retain businesses. At the extreme, Texas spends around $19 billion, or $759 per capita, and poverty-stricken West Virginia spends $1.57 billion, or a huge $845 per capita. Often this spending does not have a positive effect on development; instead, states and communities are diverting precious resources away from programs that will improve their overall well-being. Often a better use of resources is for communities to craft programs that seek to capitalize on their assets.
Assets-based development programs are ones that focus on ensuring that communities have well-educated workforces, healthy citizens, and functioning political systems. Of course, designing and implementing these programs is not an easy task. This is why communities need to construct clear visions of where they want to be in the future. In their visions, communities should identify their assets and plan strategies to develop those assets.
Modern economic forces have placed many of our communities in challenging situations, especially our rural cities and counties. However, most of these localities have underdeveloped assets that need to be expanded. It is our hope that our MPA graduates will help these communities understand the importance of focusing on assets rather than needs and the role of community vision in this process.