Vote 2012: Plaid Cymru local council election pledge to fight for services
Plaid Cymru said Wales needs strong and sustainable communities as a step towards independence, when it launched its local election campaign.
The party said it would campaign to protect public services from spending cuts and provide apprenticeships for young people.
Plaid-run councils would also help businesses win public sector contracts.
It launched it manifesto in Carmarthenshire - a key battleground - on Wednesday.
Plaid made gains at the last council elections four years ago and will be defending almost 200 seats on 3 May.
Elections are taking place in 21 out of Wales' 22 councils - all except Anglesey which is being run by ministerially-appointed commissioners.
It is the first election for Plaid under its new leader Leanne Wood.'Real independence'
But the party, which runs councils in Gwynedd and Caerphilly, has played down the possibility of making big strides saying the election result cannot be seen as a referendum on her leadership.
Ms Wood said: "We are hoping to maintain the councils that we hold.
"I think we can expect to see some gain."
She said the party would "try to explain to people that local councils have got quite a lot of powers - many powers that people realist that they have".
"If we can convince people local councillors are in a good position to stimulate local economies then I am confident we can move in the right direction."
She added: "This election is about our local communities and local economies and creating jobs as far as we can."
The manifesto echoes her leadership slogan of "real independence".
The introduction says Plaid believes that "independence is key to unlocking the potential of the nation".
"To achieve this aim we realise each community in Wales needs the strength and sustainability to take us forward as a nation."
Plaid is promising to create apprenticeships and training for young people.
"The cause of securing independence will only be held back if our young people are not provided with the education they deserve to reach their full potential," the manifesto says.
Plaid says it wants three quarters of public sector contracts to go to Welsh companies.'Vital services'
It is also pledging to bring empty buildings back into use and to make sure people benefit from harnessing natural resources in their communities.
Despite a UK-wide austerity drive it says it will campaign to save vital services that are threatened by closure or centralisation.
Plaid AM Alun Ffred Jones, the party's campaign manager, said: "Local councils have more power than we think to make a difference to our lives.
"To make Wales stronger economically councils have to pull their weight and use their powers to change lives for the better: to create work, stimulate business, encourage investment, prioritise education and take care of the environment.
"As a nation, we can build resilience to future threats by building up a network of Plaid councils run for the people and not the political parties, creating local economies that put people first."