Wealth is a word that can mean different things to different people. For many, wealth simply means money—and it’s something that only a select few have in abundance. But wealth can mean much more than money.
For example, if you live in the Rocky Mountains or along the upper shores of Lake Michigan, you and your neighbors share a wealth of natural beauty and amenities—this wealth may be the reason you choose to live where you do. Men and women with long experience working in local industries have a wealth of skills and creativity. People who have attended college or specialized training have a wealth of knowledge. Towns that have a range of community-wide activities and active civic groups have a wealth of connections. Young children with access to affordable, preventive pediatric care might count good health as a type of wealth.
Wealth means different things in different contexts. And what it takes to build wealth includes other critical factors. That’s why, in WealthWorks, the goal of economic and community development is not just wealth, it is wealth building for lasting livelihoods. So, to start, here is a common understanding of the term wealth building and what it means for WealthWorks.
Wealth building in a region means taking action to increase all three of these:
- The quality and quantity of wealth—embodied in eight different types of capital.
- The local ownership and control of that wealth by a region’s people, places or firms.
- The livelihoods of people, places and firms in the region, including moving those on the economic margins toward the mainstream.
WealthWorks’ definition of wealth building starts with the core belief that every place has wealth. Even if it is not currently in use, that wealth can be identified, deployed and increased to improve the lives of residents. Here are just a few examples:
Parts of the Pacific Northwest have a wealth of timber, maintained by private and public landowners, providing employment in many small communities. Photo: Oregon Dept of Forestry
Tribal communities have a wealth of tradition, practices and artistry, shared and maintained by tribal members to provide a sense of belonging, a home, a history—and in some cases, non-profit or for-profit tourism or craft enterprises. Photo: Caitlyn Willows
The Black Belt regions of Alabama and Mississippi have a wealth of agricultural knowledge maintained by African American residents that helps keep family, friends, communities—and some commercial customers—fed. Photo: Travis Green
Notice again, in these examples, wealth is not just about money, but instead represents different types of capital—like natural resources, culture and know-how. When owned or influenced, either individually or collectively, by residents of a region, this capital can be deployed by residents to shape, sustain and improve livelihoods.
WealthWorks helps communities do this by identifying, deploying and investing in existing regional wealth, strengthening local or regional ownership and control of it, and ensuring that many in the region—always including low-income people, places and firms—participate in and reap benefits from economic and community development action. In short, WealthWorks seeks to build regional wealth.
Why WealthWorks? Its focus on regional wealth building creates new possibilities for economic and community development. It helps widen the development focus beyond the core of profit, income and job creation today—the typically stated targets for development—to include the essential factors that will sustain profit, jobs and income into the future. WealthWorks’ wealth-building strategy produces wealth that sticks because it shows how to invest in and increase influence over local assets to produce benefits for the region both today and tomorrow.
To introduce and explore WealthWorks’ potential, this module defines the core concepts and goals of wealth building: wealth, ownership and livelihoods. Then, we explore how you can begin to think about wealth-building in your region.