The growth machine (GM) perspective has long guided urban research. Our study provides a new extension of this perspective, focusing on local business actors’ influence on communities across the United States. We question whether GM‐oriented business actors remain widely associated with contemporary local economic development policies, and further, whether these actors influence the use of limited‐government austerity policies. Conceptually, we extend the GM framework by bringing it into dialogue with the literature on urban austerity policy. The analysis draws from the urban‐quantitative tradition of large‐sample studies and assesses localities across the nation using the empirical case of county governments. We find local real estate owners, utilities, and other business actors broadly influence U.S. localities’ economic development policies. We also find some evidence that these actors’ influences in local governance are related to the use of such cutback policies as hiring freezes, capping of social services, expenditure cutbacks, and sale of public assets. Local Chambers of Commerce are particularly associated with cutback policies. Overall, the findings suggest that where local GM actors are influential, communities are more likely to adopt business‐oriented economic development policies, limit the growth of social services for the less affluent, and scale‐down the public sector.