New research: If you love your town, prosperity follows

When people are passionate about the place they live, the local economy blossoms, according to a Gallup survey of 26 US cities.

Willis Glassgow/AP Images for Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB/File
Myrtle Beach, S.C., takes the cake for the title of America’s newest boardwalk with the help of 'Cake Boss' Buddy Valastro at a May 15 ribbon cutting for the destination’s newly opened beachfront promenade. Mr. Valastro created a 10-foot long and more than 1,000 pound cake in the shape of a flip flop to celebrate the opening of the boardwalk. Cities loved by their residents experience more prosperity than those that are not, according to a new study of 26 US cities, including Myrtle Beach.

If you sometimes stop and wonder why you donate to your local school’s annual fundraiser, help plant trees on your town’s main drag or offer free hot cocoa at every street fair, the answer is because you're either very generous or you know what's good for your local economy.

New research suggests when people “love” the culture of their towns, economic prosperity follows. In a three-year Gallup survey of 26 U.S. cities, researchers learned the communities with highest levels of resident attachment — a person's passion for where he or she lives — also had the highest rates of GDP growth over time.

The findings "point to a new perspective that we encourage leaders to consider," said Paula Ellis of the Knight Foundation, which funded the poll. "It is especially valuable as we aim to strengthen our communities during this tough economic time.”

The "Knight Soul of the Community" survey explored the connection between local economic growth and residents’ emotional bond to a place. Results clearly show a significant, positive link between resident attachment and local GDP growth, conclude researchers and Ellis, the foundation's vice president for strategic initiatives.

Three qualities surfaced as the leading drivers for attachment to a home city: its social offerings, openness and beauty. Those qualities were cited by survey respondents more often than other possible influences and demographic characteristics such as people’s perceptions of their local economy, leadership and safety.

Gallup randomly surveyed 43,000 adults over the phone from 2008 to 2010 in these cities: Aberdeen, S.D.; Akron, Ohio; Biloxi, Miss.; Boulder, Colo.; Bradenton, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; Columbus, Ga.; Detroit; Duluth, Minn.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Gary, Ind.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Lexington, Ky.; Long Beach, Calif.; Macon, Ga.; Miami; Milledgeville, Ga.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Philadelphia; San Jose, Calif.; St. Paul, Minn.; State College, Pa.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Wichita, Kan.

According to Gallup World Poll, which conducted the survey, organizations in Miami, Charlotte and Detroit already plan to use the findings. For example, the Miami Foundation will use the research to identify needs specific to the South Florida region and then advocate for public-policy changes or take direct action.

“This survey offers new approaches for communities to organize themselves to attract businesses, keep residents and holistically improve their local economic vitality,” Gallup deputy director Jon Clifton said in a statement.

“Our theory is that when a community’s residents are highly attached, they will spend more time there, spend more money; they’re more productive and tend to be more entrepreneurial,” Clifton said.

“The study bears out that theory and now provides all community leaders the knowledge they need to make a sustainable impact on their community.”

Within a smaller environment such as a business, Gallup discovered that increasing employees’ emotional connection to their company leads to an improvement in the company's financial performance.

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