National rural-issues website The Daily Yonder ran an article yesterday exhorting rural businesses to form "clusters" if they want to thrive. The thrust of the story is counter-intuitive -- the author, Stuart Rosenfeld, argues that rather than competing for customers, similar small businesses operating near each other seem to attract more business for all. He cites Vermont's booming sustainable agriculture economy as an example:
Though the second smallest state in population, Vermont stands head and shoulders above every other state based on its per capita concentrations of local farms, CSAs (community supported agriculture), organic farms, and farmers markets. This is important because groups of related businesses — clusters — are now thought to be essential for economic growth. Businesses are more efficient when they are clustered. Workers generally earn more. Related business clusters can feed off each other.
The last section of the article has tips for how to build a cluster. Food for thought for the Catskills, perhaps?
Agriculture is no longer just crops and animals in Vermont. Except for the largest dairy farms, economic survival and growth depend on rural families finding ways to supplement their income from the food they produce though other innovative market opportunities. They may offer weekend farm stays, start catering services, process their own foods, direct sales to local markets, create artisan products and brands or produce renewable energy by selling biomass, wind power, or operating methane digesters.