Communities cannot flourish without success of local businesses

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By Brent Warwick

In many ways, we as a culture have lost the idea that the success of business is tied to the success of a community. In the name of maximizing shareholder value, we outsource operations overseas. We relocate manufacturing to where labor is cheaper. We design products for planned obsolescence. We disdain our environment as we bow to the throne of convenience. And we make five-year plans rather than five-generation plans.

What if the good of a business cannot be separated from the long-term common good of our community? It’s difficult to see this direct correlation in the short term. If a neighborhood or section of a city becomes derelict or even uninhabitable because of pollutants, for instance, most businesses will simply choose to relocate. That’s the most expedient solution. In the short term, that seems to make sense. But in the long term, what happens when more desirable locations become far more scarce and subsequently cost-prohibitive? When a workforce has to drive farther and farther from their homes? When our dystopian stories of warning start to become the reality that we face? That’s when we start to see the interdependent reality of businesses and communities.

In general, we are so obsessed with a bottom-line-driven narrative that any discussion of purpose beyond that is seen as a “nice to have” rather than a “vital to have.” The idea that business is inextricably tied to the common good is relegated to socially conscious enterprises but not necessarily to businesses outside of that realm. What if every business recognized the reality that socially conscious businesses have been learning?

Businesses need flourishing communities to meet their labor needs. And communities need businesses that value human flourishing not only to meet their employment needs, but to contribute to a community’s overall well-being. Anything short of this symbiotic relationship eventually results in a depletion of the very human resources necessary to sustain business. Unfortunately, the depletion of a community’s “human resources” is often obscured for a generation or more. Today’s business leaders won’t see the full effects of their decisions that may erode the well-being of a community.

We don’t necessarily have to experiment with present-day decisions to see exactly how they will play out in a generation or two. There are historical lessons we can draw from if we care to learn from them. It’s still foundationally important to create jobs that pay people. But it’s more than that. We can value the intangibles of our businesses’ interactions with our community. We can value the long-term health of people and places more than we value short-term gain. Ultimately, economies flourish when businesses flourish. And businesses flourish when communities flourish. And communities flourish when people
flourish. Are we dedicated to helping people flourish?

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