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Building Main Street, not Wall Street: There are community winners and losers

JOHN NEWBY • May 5, 2020 at 4:30 PM

We have all known or been associated with business owners that have failed. They had big dreams, small budgets and great work ethic. They had hoped word of mouth would spur business growth. They hoped great customer service would set them apart. They hoped they could overcome the poor, yet affordable business location. They have a passion for what they do, and they hoped hard work and a stick-to-it attitude would overcome all the normal obstacles they would encounter. But when the dust settled, they learned through the school of hard knocks that “hope” makes for a very poor business strategy, and it takes more than hard work and perseverance to succeed.

That begs the question: Is it a community’s job to assure that new businesses succeed? After all, many new businesses lack many of the skill sets and funds needed before they even start. Historically, and even more so today in the COVID-19 era, it is in the community’s best interest to provide a winning business climate along with a support network that increases the odds of success for new or expanding business owners. Expanding and forward-thinking communities understand this very well. What are some of those best practices communities can employ to further create an innovative and entrepreneurial mind-set throughout your community and Main Street?

First and foremost, foster a “hyper-local” and “shop-local” state of mind throughout the community. Successful communities embrace this concept from the top down. They would never consider a purchase outside of the boundaries of their community before exploring ALL hyper-local options. Every tax dollar kept local benefits the city many times over as those tax dollars spent locally are then re-spent again and again. Lead by example.

Secondly, they create networks that can aid and support local business development. The more diverse the local business community, the more it will convey the vibrancy needed to foster growth. Communities want the large employer or new manufacturer to come to town. In reality, communities can have the same results one new local business at a time. Ten new businesses that open each year with 3-5 employees is no different than one 150-250 employee company moving to town every five years. Not to mention, local business will ask for fewer tax breaks, fewer amenities and will be more active in the community. Another potential benefit is that new and vibrant businesses and communities are what actually draw those few relocating companies to consider your community.

Thirdly, forward-thinking communities work with local entrepreneurs to expand and meet some of the demands not currently filled by local businesses. While it is true some businesses may not make sense for every community, what kinds of businesses do you need that can be expanded to meet local demands? Often times, communities go looking for big national chains because of their track record of success when they have local entrepreneurs that are more than capable and able with a little push and assistance to meet those same demands.

Lastly, develop the tourist mentality. Most communities have the ability to create or attract successful tourist-type events and destinations. While varying across the country, look at each tourist to your community as 1,000 new dollars walking into your community. Look at each hundred visitors as $100,000 walking into your community. Communities often overlook this most basic and logical way to foster growth and development. A community need not be New York, Chicago, Branson or host spring training for Major League Baseball to draw tourism. Tourism seeks out unique attractions, unique events, unique downtowns, unique retail experiences and in short — something different or outside of the norm. This will be even more true in the age of COVID-19 as many look to travel more regionally in lieu of internationally. Find your community’s potential niche, build upon it and then let the world know. You will be amazed.

These certainly aren’t the only things a community can do to battle the economic woes that so many small and mid-sized communities experience. But these are the basic things every community can start with. Communities doing all the above and also those local things unique to them and their area will find a way. They will find a way because doing all the above items show that they are willing to do what it takes to win. Make no mistake, this is a high stakes competition. There are winners and there are losers. Which side will your community line up on?

John A. Newby, author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" column dedicated to helping communities and local media companies combine synergies that allow them to not just survive, but thrive in a world where truly local is lost to Amazon, Wall Street chains and others. His email at: [email protected]

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