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Long range planning is looking beyond the immediate future to understand what market and other conditions may exist down the road. This plan includes more than just a statement of goals. For businesses, it may include identifying areas of expansion, new locations, and anticipating what competition may do over a long period of time. For governments, long range planning often includes developing a capital improvement plan for buildings and infrastructure, as well as zoning considerations. There is no set amount of time defining the difference between a long term plan and a short range plan, but planning over the long term generally takes place more than 12 months out.
Generally, for most businesses, anything beyond a normal operational budget could be considered a long-range plan. For example, while chain stores and restaurants may set money aside for new locations, that is considered to be long range planning because there is no specific project in mind, or the funding for a specific project may be set aside over a number of years. An operational budget usually lasts for a fiscal year, and includes things such as payroll, utilities, insurance and other expenses. Some businesses may even break down plans into short range, mid range, and long range goals.
For governments, a long range plan could include a number of different factors meant to move the community forward. One of the most concentrated areas for long range planning is in transportation, and will include planning for roads, municipal transit systems, and perhaps airport and seaport improvements. Replacing or renovating government buildings and recreational facilities also factor into a long range plan. Budgeting for these projects may take place over a period of many years.
Zoning is another common area where governments plan for the long term. Local governments, such as cities and counties, usually are in charge of zoning. In many cases, zoned areas may be designated for a certain purpose even if no development or little development has taken place in a particular area. Such development may not take place for many years, but represents a strategic plan for a local government to improve the quality of life for its residents, or to accommodate an expanding population.
Long range planning helps define where a business or government wishes to go and helps those entities prepare for change. It is common for long range plans to change several times before they are implemented. These plans are generally fluid enough to allow for those changes quickly and without too many negative effects. Once a project starts, or as funding for it nears completion, the concept moves from a long range plan to an operational, or short range plan.