American Minister, orator, philanthropist, and writer Russell Conwell famously gave a lecture called “Acres of Diamonds.”

In this lecture, Conwell states:
“Had [the protagonist of the fable] remained at home and dug in his own cellar, or underneath his own wheat fields or in his own garden, instead of wretchedness, starvation, and death by suicide in a strange land, he would have had ‘acres of diamonds.’

The idea behind “Acres of Diamonds” is simply this: as humans, we often eschew the familiar for the exotic, and in doing so we miss out on real opportunities.

Over the past 7 years as I have traveled to cities and towns around the country they all have one thing in common: they think they are unique and what has worked for others “cannot possibly work here.” It is a classic case of overlooking the familiar while desiring the exotic and it is hindering economic growth within communities large and small in America.

See diamonds often look different (especially at their discovery) than we expect. Here are some of the diamonds that probably exist in your community right now, but that we are stepping over on a daily basis:

Unlocked Capital
Within any community, regardless of size, there are those who have “done well for themselves.” Even in cities and towns with largely impoverished populations, there are those who in ages gone by made their money, retired, and are now living off of their hard work. Many of those who find themselves in this situation would be more than willing to invest in a new local startup if there were simply a mechanism by which to vet opportunities, minimize exposure, and trust those making the decisions for investment. What would happen to capital deployment if every city of more than 7500 people had a group of locals who created an investment club or even formal fund that would put money into local startups within their communities? The money is there. The opportunity is there, we simply haven’t created the mechanism by which to collect these “diamonds.”

Under-Utilized Real Estate
There are areas of every town or city that with the right focus could create new economic opportunities not only for the owners of the property but for others within the community. Here is just one example: Imagine a boutique hotel with a lobby and meeting rooms that go largely unused (especially at specific times of day). What if that same Hotel created a system whereby local community members could for either a membership fee or small use fee utilize those meeting spaces as long as it was for “conducting business.” Even if the majority of those utilizing the space are realtors, if their potential clients were there, seeing all of the others coming and going and how there “seems to be a lot of opportunities here,” it would create a new business climate and all that has been done is utilizing underused spaces at a time when they would otherwise be empty anyway.

Legacy Industry Expertise
Logging, mineral extraction, manufacturing, etc. are not often seen as the “future of a community’s economic growth.” They are what we call legacy industries. These industries are either dying, have died, or are not employing the numbers of workers that they once did. When it comes to the Acres of Diamonds where we live we often overlook these industries as outdated or outmoded, but within the industries are people. People who have developed expertise in said industries that may be applied to a new sustainable industry. Think this is off base? Do those in manufacturing whose livelihood has been squelched by robots and automation, have the skill-sets to help prototype new types of materials and technologies? Do the miners who have been displaced have the expertise for their industry that could be capitalized on to create safer and more ecologically sustainable ways to extract minerals from the earth? The industry expertise all around us can be a Diamond in our Acres if only we are looking for them.

Highly Motivated Young People
Brain drain is a real issue. Young people born and raised in a community (especially impoverished or small ones) cannot wait to leave town for the “bright lights of the big city” are often highly motivated, however, they do not see any opportunities within their given areas of interest or schooling to find those opportunities within their familiar “Acres” so they look to the exotic. Those highly motivated young people could be with the right leadership developed into cohorts of creators who even at a very young age are starting new companies, developing new technology, or even transforming entire industries. They are literally the diamonds that might bring wealth to an entire community.

What are the “diamonds” in your “acres?” If there was a single person or small group who were looking to identify and develop these diamonds into cohesive and inclusive tribes who then can build and create new companies and intellectual property, wealth could be created and opportunity deployed much more efficiently than in traditional economic development models.

You live in “Acres of Diamonds” it’s time to start picking them up!