Time is of the Essence

“Changing the world is always disruptive."  - Rachel Gutter

Few understand the true nature disruptive change. Disruptive change is usually viewed as unsettling, and well, just downright disruptive to the status quo – which certainly is a much easier and lazy way to plod through life.   Unfortunately for many communities, they are ill equipped to cope with major disruption.  In fact, most when faced with disruption changes or trends tend to double down on the old fashion thinking and put up the protective walls hoping the disruption will pass them by.  In today’s economic and business climate, that is the sure way to irrelevance and destruction.

We are most likely in the largest and most profound economic disruption period in human history.  This disruption isn’t just a state issue or a United States issue; it is a worldwide issue that is very unique in human history.  In the book, the Tale of two Cities, it states, “It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.”  That is so true today, we have the vastness of information available to us in seconds, we have the ability to shop from our couch, and we have the ability to see friends around the globe in seconds.  While all that is the “best of times”, in other economic terms, it can be the “worst of times” for many cities. 

Fighting and winning against economic disruption is not an easy task and few are up to the challenge. 87% of the companies on the Fortune 500 in 1955 no longer exist, in large part due to failing to deal with disruptive forces.  The disruptive forces that are starting to weigh heavily on communities are just in the beginning stages; the disruption will only intensify.  The e-commerce of the Internet will increase, wages will remain challenged, communities and states will have fewer resources from which to call upon and the list of potential disruptions continues to mount.

When faced with disruptive forces, what ought communities do?  First and foremost, they must recognize the danger they face. One of the biggest reason those 87% of the Fortune 500 companies are no longer around is that they remained faithful and clung to their previously successful business model not taking seriously or fully understanding the true danger they faced until it was to late.

In order to overcome the disruptive forces, communities must switch from the slow and plodding approaches of certain issues and spring into action.  They must look at the cause of the disruption and determine if they should fight the disruption or if they should marshal the forces of the disruption to their advantage.  Both can be very effective and at times it might be a combination of the two approaches together.

Regardless of the approach, one thing is certain; doing what has been done in the past is rarely the right approach. In fact, it will be more about not getting it exactly right all the time, but being less wrong than you were before.  Change isn’t about being right all the time, it is about calculated trying and knowing that some of the tries will fail. 

Those resistant to change will always be the biggest roadblocks to success.  Some just don’t have the DNA of change and will resist to the end.  Look for those in your community that lead change; those are the ones that have hope. Look for those leaders seeking new paths and directions; they at least understand the severity of the situation.  Much like a race against time, the clock that determines the winners and losers in the new economic business climate has already started. If your community hasn’t got out of the starting blocks, it isn’t to late. But if they are still surveying the track and weighing the pros and cons of the race, they are most likely already dead man walking.

As always, balance is still the key, there are many traditional approaches to issues that are certainly still viable options, but more often than not, it will be a few of the traditional methods sprinkled in or combined with new approaches that win the day.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

Facts, Figures & Marketing Logic

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking."  - Albert Einstein

In a recent “think with Google” release, the following information was revealed. The article reported that ‘travel related’ searches for “today” and “tonight” on mobile devices have increased by 150% in just the past two years.  Additionally, the piece reported that 60% of U.S. travelers would also consider taking an impulse trip based on great hotel or flight deals. It also revealed that 57% of U.S. travelers feel that destination brands should tailor their information based on personal preferences or past behaviors. Lastly, approximately a third of travelers across the country are interested in using digital assistants to not only research, but book their travel.

Those are either powerful trends and insights for communities with the aptitude to utilize the power and shear strength of the digital world, or an albatross to communities stuck in doing things the same way they have for the past few years.

While print continues to be the single most used source to reach potential travelers, it is very clear that digital is fast becoming a major force in luring visitors to communities. How does your community do in the digital arena?  In addition to strategic print buys, do your local marketing discussions center around and include the very basic digital words such as Social Media, Gaming, SEO, GeoMarketing, Mobile-Friendly, QR codes (already obsolete), Beacons, Loading Speeds, Web-Friendly and the list goes on.

Now, bear in mind, the above are just the most basic strategies to utilize the rapidly changing technology that will be a thing of the past in the near future.  If your community is really forward thinking and contemplating strategies two-four years down the road, you are then discussing how to utilize Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things.  While marketing ones community is essential, the rapidly approaching processes of marketing your communities are changing and on steroids or “changed-squared” if you will.

When it comes to marketing transformation, we are in the perfect storm of technological change.  Yes, the shear power of the overall reach of traditional media is still undeniably king at spreading your message. But when you couple the strengths of the traditional marketing methods along with the exponential disruption of the new marketing media tools, you have a combination that will propel your community to new heights.

Make no mistake, a new marketing strategy isn’t just creating a new Facebook page and being big on social media. Yes, those can help, no doubt, but don’t make the fatal mistake of thinking that is the basis of your marketing campaign.  The true cost to enter the new marketing arena isn’t any less than before, in fact, it is much more costly if you are to make a worthwhile impact.  The single price of print products has declined overall.  The the cost of really playing in the digital arena and reaching the same equivalent number of your target audience is every bit as high due to the massive fragmentation of the digital audience over so many digital options.

As with everything, communities need to strike a healthy balance between all forms of marketing to most effectively convey their message to their targets.  Knowing your target audience is very critical; you will be wasting money if you don’t know that simple, yet vital piece of data.  Do you want baby boomers with excess dollars to visit your market?  You are then looking at combination print/digital campaign.  Do you want Millennial’s and Gen-X’s to visit your market? You are then certainly leaning more into the digital world. 

The beauty of gaining this digital marketing knowledge in the marketing arena is that it can go along way toward leveling the playing field between large, medium and small communities.  Even the smallest of communities with a powerful strategic marketing campaign can compete with larger communities in a new world of rapid change and transformation.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

Vision Transforms

All progress takes place outside the comfort zone."  - Michael John Bobak

How important is community pride or community self-esteem to the overall vibrancy of a community?  It may turn out that while most of the attention and focus is on the financial resources that can assist in creating a more vibrant community, without elevating the sense of community pride and self-esteem and self-worth, the massive transfusion of dollars may be for naught.  In fact, there is ample evidence that would indicate that growing your community pride and self-esteem are directly related to the local growth of the GDP or revenue outlook as well. 

When it comes to a community, the old adage that “perception is reality” may actually have a firm basis in truth.  What residents feel towards their community has a direct correlation to their overall involvement, their volunteering likelihood and their civic contributions.  A great example of this is on the voting front. While voting is becoming less of a civic undertaking all across the country, those communities that have a low self-esteem and see a bleak future are also at the bottom of the voting percentages as a community, they have just lost interest in their own community.

When one thinks of this, I don’t believe this comes as much of a surprise; it actually makes total sense. But that then leads to the natural follow-up question or conversation: How do we bring back that pride and esteem that is so vital to a community’s well being? How do we turn around the negative mindsets that are so pervasive within the boundaries of the community?

How do communities overcome their self-perception issues? How do communities bridge the often times Grand Canyon size gulfs of self-esteem? How do communities lift themselves up from past mistakes, false starts and the constant beat of the naysayer’s drumbeat? The answer to each of those questions lies in one word - Vision!

Vision has the ability to transcend the widest of gulfs, heal the sickest of communities, and spark the renaissance of ideas and innovation. Vision can take a community that dares to dream big from the depths of the valley to the mountaintop of dreams. Vision dares you to dream big, reach high, and raise the bar.

While any community can have lofty visions, the reality of the matter is that few do. Most communities and leaders are stuck in the traditional mindsets and failed strategies and policies that have in fact created the problems they are dealing with today. Not that those ideas didn’t have their time and place; but like 8-track tapes, black and white TV’s and shelves of comprehensive studies lining city hall, failure to adapt to change has left them mired in the antiquated sameness of Neverland.

While most will say they have the Vision and the willingness to go where that leads, studies and practical observation show otherwise.  While the numbers vary, most studies will indicate less than 10% will eagerly adapt to significant changes in vision. Approximately 1-3% of that 5-10% might be considered true visionaries, willing to take the risk and lead the charge towards a future full of vision and hope. The other 90% are followers waiting to be swayed, but only after great effort. Let that sink in; in a community of 20,000, that is 1000-2000 willing to promote change. That is about 10-20 with the DNA to truly lead and enact change.

The odds of success may seem to be stacked against those with visionary dreams. They can take comfort in knowing that every successful community transformation, nearly every successful business and in fact, the United States of America came about due to those persistent 1% of visionary leaders.

You see, setbacks don’t stop visionaries; they further motivate them. Public opinion doesn’t deter visionaries; following the herd mentality has never had much appeal to them in the first place. Perfection is not a priority in a visionary’s mind, as they understand it is rarely achieved, and that “perfect is the enemy of great.” So the real task for communities is to find the true, trusted and financially prudent visionaries, follow their lead and hold on for the ride. Those are the communities that have a hopeful tomorrow.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

The Rebuilding Journey

Logic will take you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere."  - Albert Einstein

I really enjoy the above quote for many reasons.  On one hand, the first half of the quote might best describe most city governments throughout the country.  Those city and government organizations are run by good and well meaning people; they are smart and very creative within the box they reside.  However, it is the second half of the quote that best describes forward-thinking city governments, which are very few and far between.  

What separates the many communities in the first group versus those very few communities in the second group? That is very simple; it would be their dedicated forward thinking toward revitalizing and transforming their cities for the new economy that is barreling down the tracks, heading right for every town USA.  Of course, most communities believe they have time and there are no worries.  But in reality, the economic transformation is coming in a timeframe measured in a few short years, not a few decades.

There are many discussions, points of view and thoughts on what will make-up that new economy. But when we consolidate those into a couple points that nearly everyone seems to more or less agree on, we can see that regardless of one’s point of view, rapid change is certainly upon us.

The first point we all seem to agree on is that retail is undergoing a rapid transformation. Getting this one right is critical. It is rapidly becoming a retail situation of the haves and have-nots.  On one end, the discount retailers such as Dollar Tree are doing very well; growing in fact.  On the other end, while there is a shaking out so to speak with retailers on the high end, as a group those retailers are doing OK.  The hardest hit group in what many are calling the “Retail Apocalypse of 2017” are the middle sector retail establishments which are falling by the wayside at a faster rate than one can imagine; and the bloodbath is far from over. 

The apocalypse of 2017 for the middle retail group isn’t over, it will continue for years.  The unfortunate issue here is that this will hit the small and mid-sized communities the hardest.  If your community is lined with mid-level National Retail, prepare for the end and be be prepared to turn that to your advantage.  Another point that bears repeating addresses online marketplaces. Many in both small and large communities are flocking to the convenience of online shopping leaving their local communities hung out to dry. I am not one that believes all online shopping is bad; there are things that you cannot get in local communities and it makes sense to get them the most convenient way possible. While some online shopping can actually be a healthy thing for a community, when the balance swings too far, make no mistake, communities will be devastated.

While the methods may vary, when it comes down to it, forward thinking communities understand one basic law of their transformation; The Law of Local.  They understand that every dollar they keep within the boundaries of their communities are vital and essential.  They understand and commit all their time, resources and energy on creating a local retail base, a local restaurant base and a local experience.  They understand that with few exceptions, the continued courting of National chains and big boxes are a thing of the past. They understand that those same dollars devoted in years past to national chains that suck your community dry, slow and steadily, are best put to use building their community’s local base. They make local entrepreneurship easy, affordable and wanted.

Oftentimes when writing this weekly column, I feel I am saying some of the same things over, just with slight variations.  While that may be true, I also understand that one of the major laws of marketing is that the message must be conveyed between six and seven times before the message really sticks. Communities can look at it the same way, keep preaching the local message, keep conveying your shop hyper-local message and keep fighting for your future. If your community is to have a bright future, understand the dynamics of today are not only nice, but critical for your survival in a cruel and unrelenting economic environment. 

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

It Takes a Committed Community

All progress takes place outside the comfort zone."  - Michael John Bobak

I was recently reminded of just how fragile communities and locally owned businesses can be.  There was a very nice, yet somewhat dated locally owned restaurant in our community that was open one day and gone the next. While the modestly priced restaurant needed a few minor tweaks, it was still a great place for a nice quiet dinner and an escape from the normal loud sit-down places most are stuck with today.

Having had a conversation with the owner shortly before closing, they conveyed that business had become very difficult over the past few months. They believed that the opening of one of those ‘sameness’ national chain steakhouses in the community was the final straw that did them in. 

In our discussions and analysis of their situation, it occurred to me that they had died a slow death by little setbacks along the way.  Of course, in their minds it was all outside influences that caused them to meet their demise. I’m thinking, through the discussion, that there is more to it as well. A few tweaks with their business model such as new menu items, some marketing savvy and so forth might have been all that was needed to make a difference.

In this case, it would have only taken two additional couples or small groups dining there each night; that would have saved this locally owned business.  The ultimate success of most locally owned businesses typically doesn’t  need a massive consumer base to survive; just small upticks can be the difference between life and death. Think of it this way, if a restaurant has 2-3 additional couples dining there each night, that is $200 - $300 additional income each night or $2100 per week, or $8400 per month or approximately $100,000 per year.  To a small locally owned business, that means staying in business or not. 

So where does this leave a community. It certainly leaves a big void in the dining scene. It siphons off yet more money that will leave the community to some corporate chain headquarters in a far off state or country. In the case of this single restaurant, it takes millions of dollars out of commission that would otherwise be circulating throughout the community generating sales tax revenue each year.  It reduces the choices of the consumers as they are slowly funneled towards out of town establishments that are becoming more and more pervasive throughout smaller communities.

What can communities do to avoid this situation repeating itself time and time again? The solutions aren’t all that difficult.  We all need to take a bigger interest in our locally owned business establishments. We need to be more pro-active and not only frequent them more often, but provide constructive suggestions on how they can better serve or meet the demands of their customer base. Locally owned businesses need to be in tune to the consumer demands and do their best to not only understand them, but strive to meet those demands. That means change is the name of the game if you are in business.

We must all understand there are four types of ways to spend our money. One is to leave town and spend it in a distant community. Two is to shop online from the luxury of own home. Three is frequent non-locally owned business establishments. Four is to frequent locally owned and operated business establishments.  The first two options will kill your community rapidly if done in excess. The third will kill your community slowly via death of a thousand paper cuts. The fourth is the only sure way to grow your local tax base and thus create a more vibrant community. That isn’t opinion, this is simple math and logic.

As with everything, there needs to be a balance. Let us all take stock of our communities. Let us all think, what can I do to assure our locally owned business base is surviving.  If we all think this through together, there is little that can stop your community from reaching its fullest economic potential. If we don’t think this through, there is little you can do to stop the ultimate demise of your community.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

Retail Challenges Bring Local Opportunity

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite." - G. K. Chesterton

One would be hard pressed to have not heard about the doom and gloom known as the 2017 retail apocalypse. The news was full of store and chain closings and bankruptcies across the country.  Yes, the economic conditions of many local and national communities and retail sectors struggled greatly. But in all that economic pain and suffering, those in tune can find ample opportunity for local businesses willing to invest their time, energy, innovation and resources to buck the negative trends many communities and retail sectors face.

It is true that shoppers are moving away from many of the national chains and the sameness that engulfs most retail to the convenience of online shopping. After all, if you go into retail location after retail location and nothing is really different, why bother? You can find that same boring sea of sameness, along with a vast array of options online, saving gas and time along the way.

In a world full of sameness in nearly every facet of ones life, most tend to crave new and unique experiences. We are seeking ways to add uniqueness to our lives full of routine and status quo.  Businesses that really understand that inherent consumer desire stand a far greater chance of success in this new and unforgiving retail climate.   Communities that embrace this understanding, making it easier for businesses to innovate and meet these new demands, are far more likely to thrive.  I would go as far as to say, the hyper-local retail establishments actually have the upper hand; winning this retail is theirs for the taking – or losing.

Communities that continue to court big boxes and chains have already lost.  They may not realize it, but they are simply dead man walking. To quote Becky McCray in her piece titled “The Future of Retail,” she says; “To find future retail successes, local officials will have to flip their ideas of economy of scale. Rather than betting big on individual chains and a few major construction projects, today’s leaders will find the successful economy of scale by bringing together dozens of tiny retail experiments by local people.”

Local business owners can also contribute to this movement and success. They must concentrate on providing over-the-top customer service as well as finding ways to provide unique customer experiences and interactions that fit their retail or dining model.  Being local isn’t an excuse to ignore the technology available; in fact, embracing the digital age in unique ways is a must. A great example is the ability to accept orders via messaging, text message or email. This is a must in today’s climate and digital age.  Utilize the same digital tools that are your competitor to your advantage.

Local businesses must work together as well. They must work together to market themselves as a group. Long gone are the days when a business can effectively market on their own. They must work together to spread their message far and wide. Those that don’t market are destined to die; it is only a matter of time.

Lastly, communities must focus on their downtown which was the heart and soul in years gone by and must be again in order to stem the oncoming economic challenges which will only intensify.

Make no mistake; the road to success can be robust and profitable for both businesses and communities.  But it isn’t a road that is easily traveled. In fact, the road will be littered with failed or half-hearted efforts by those failing to grasp the realities of the new world in which we live. It will be littered by those that insist upon traditional approaches to business and government; those that are slow, those that are traditional, those that are overly cautious and the list goes on. Don’t let your community continue down the road of sameness, stand up and insist on a unique community that attracts consumers thirsting for new experiences.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

A Community’s Untapped Resource

Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great."

John D. Rockefeller

While nearly every community is seeking ways to ignite tourism and stimulate economic growth, there is oftentimes an untapped resource that goes unnoticed and in large part unclaimed.  That untapped and unclaimed community resource is that of local museums.

While it is rare that a single museum will by itself lift a community out of an economic decline, it isn’t so rare these oftentimes-unclaimed resources can provide a great stepping-stone or foundation upon which to build. To be fair, it is rarely a single entity, museums included, which will lift a community.  It is normally a community-wide long range and strategic marketing approach that involves multiple and varied methods that will win the day.  But make no mistake, when done correctly; museums can be a big part of that community-wide strategy.

A community must also understand the nature of most museums.  While there are a few museums that can stand on their own financially, communities must understand that museums are rarely able to accomplish that.  There is usually a financial cost with having local quality of life entities such as event centers, sport complexes and other infrastructure.  But when one factors even very modest figures; a case can be made for supporting these entities to a reasonable degree.  If only 2000 out of town tourists come to your community due to a museum attraction and only spend $250  (about 1/3 of what studies show can be expected), that is $500,000 new dollars circulating through your community.

I would suggest that with a concerted marketing and branding strategy, (yes, marketing is vastly different than branding) museums will not be a public drain, but a valued resource that helps propel a community forward.  Furthermore, communities that have the luxury of museums should create a specific museum strategy that is promoted, celebrated, branded and advertised far and wide. Smart communities figured this out long ago.

As communities develop their museum strategy, always keep in mind that the most important issue is that of the visitor experience. Ask yourself, if I had traveled one or two hours to visit this museum, would I be thrilled or disappointed. If the answer isn’t “thrilled,” you may not be considered a viable museum.  If you can’t find a reason to stay and take-in the various museums exhibit’s for more than an hour, you may want to revaluate your museum and create an entity that raises awareness, concerns, educates and thrills.  If you aren’t adding new displays and interactive components at least monthly, you are lacking.  If any of the above describes your museum, it doesn’t mean it won’t work, it only means your community must determine what needs to be done to change that.

Once you have created the museum experience that you as a community can find reasons to visit yourself multiple times and one that you can’t wait to take your visiting family to; you are ready to start your regional museum campaign. If you are a community with multiple museums, you are sitting on a goldmine of tourism. Piece together a marketing plan around the entire museum experience; give reason for tourists to select your community based on this grand experience.

Spread the message far and wide, you will be amazed at the results when done correctly. As the numbers securely support, the payback to your community can be huge, but only if you strategize the approach.  Communities must learn to market and brand themselves efficiently, that is a key component to not only a powerful museum strategy, but a powerful community-wide strategy as well.  Promoting your community is not a playground for those who can’t see the forest through the marketing trees.

It is time for communities to seize the moment. It is time for communities to get serious about marketing themselves or they will be left as road kill on the highway to prosperity.   

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

There Are Community Winners and Losers

"Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better."

Jim Rohn

We have all known or been associated with business owners that have failed to make it. They had big dreams, small budgets and great work ethic.  They had hope that word of mouth would spur business growth. They hoped that great customer service would set them apart. They hoped that they could overcome the otherwise poor, yet affordable location.  They have a passion for what they do and they hoped that 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 far more than hard work and perseverance to succeed.

It isn’t the community’s job to assure that all new businesses succeed; after all, many new businesses lack many of the skillsets and funds needed before they even start.  It is however in the community’s best interest to provide the 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 that communities can employ to further create an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset up and down Main Street?

First and foremost, foster a hyper-local state of mind throughout the community. Forward-thinking communities have embraced 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 penny kept local benefits the city many times over.

Secondly, they will create networks that can aid and support local business development. The more diverse the local business community, the more that it will convey the vibrancy needed to foster growth. We all want the large employer or new manufacturer to come to town, but the reality is that communities can have the same results one new local business at a time.  Ten new businesses open each year with -3-5 employees is no different than one 150-200 employee business moving to town every five years. Not to mention the local business will need fewer tax breaks, fewer amenities and is more active in the community.

Thirdly, communities can work with local businesses to expand and meet some of the demands not currently filled by local businesses. While it is true that some businesses may not make sense for every community, what kinds of businesses can be helped to expand and meet local demands? Often times we go out looking for the big National chain because of their track record of success when we have local entrepreneurs that are more than 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 tourist type events and destinations that succeed.  Look at each new tourist as $1000 walking into your community. Look at each hundred as $100,000 walking into your community. Communities often overlook the 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.  Find your 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 that 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 is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

Yes, Voters Can Change Your Downtown

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal; It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

It is that time of year where many communities around the country have either gone through or are preparing to go through their local elections.  While it can be easy to believe that your vote has little impact on the National or local voting scene, nothing could be further from the truth.  This column will address your vote on the local level.  Your local vote can indeed not only impact various issues in your local community, it can determine the direction of your downtown revitalization and transformation efforts for years to come.

The candidates you elect have a potentially huge impact on the direction and future of your downtown.  The questions you ask of them are critical. Questions such as; Do they understand the power and pull of tourism to the community? Do they understand how important being business friendly is to drawing new and younger entrepreneurs to your community? Do they understand that wishing for new high-paying jobs to show up is usually a fool’s errand?  Do they understand the real importance of having a city led hyper-local movement? Do they even know what a hyper-local movement is?

These and other questions are critical to your downtown and in fact, your entire community. Tourism is indeed the one thing that communities can control to an extent. The events they bring together and the atmosphere they provide are so crucial to bringing outside visitors in to spend their money in your community.

Being business friendly is critical to growth. Communities that make it difficult for start-up or new businesses are simply left behind in today’s world.  Those entrepreneurs will simply go to the next town that happens to be more business friendly to open up shop there. City officials can create a one-stop business office that holds hands and simplifies the entire process if they wish.

Understanding the nature of higher paying jobs is what separates the true candidates from those blowing smoke. Companies relocating or starting up that offer those high-paying jobs are few and far between. Communities that come to the reality that courting those companies is, at best, high stakes poker where most lose, have the upper hand. They have the upper hand because they understand that to improve their odds in this high-stakes poker game, they must revitalize and transform their downtown. Companies simply don’t relocate to cities with a dead downtown lacking vibrancy, heart and soul. It is hard enough to retain workers as it is; the quality of life they seek for their employees is critical.

Do candidates really understand what hyper-local means? Hyper-local efforts must be led by the city. They must promote, encourage and above all, set the example. When cities purchase goods outside of their community, they are sending a message to their residents that hyper-local really isn’t that important. That is the nail in the coffin of communities moving forward. With city’s budgets being challenged more than ever, every penny that can be kept within the boundaries of the local community is crucial. Those dollars will recirculate over and over again providing additional jobs, sales tax and progress within the city. Cities simply must get this right.

Voters must understand that candidates claiming to solve all their community woes are simply blowing smoke and pandering to those that are ignorant of the crisis that cities are in.  There are very few people that wouldn’t want to solve all the woes.  The smart ones understand the crisis and know that the only way to even begin solving these woes is to keep as many dollars local as possible and create a vibrant community.

Small and mid-sized cities are in the fight of their economic lives, many aren’t even aware of the magnitude of the struggle or the size of the mountain they must climb to find success or respite from the economic storm, if it even exists. These aren’t the days where a slow meandering approach is prudent; these are the days where the slow and meandering will be left as a carcass on the economic road.  Cities need bold candidates that understand tourism, hyper-local, business and economics; not those bellowing promises that can never be fulfilled on their watch.   

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

Must Have Ingredient For Successful Revitalization

“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.”

Jim Rohn

Most will agree that there are several potential pathways a downtown or a business might take on the road to a successful transformation or revitalization effort.   It certainly isn’t a one-size fit’s all journey.  Every downtown or business has their own issues to overcome and their own mountains to climb.  Each must identify those issues and mountains tackling them in such a way that fits their abilities and expertise.

One of the largest mountains to climb for many downtowns and businesses is a term I recently heard referred to as a ‘poverty-minded’ mindset.  Yes, many communities and businesses have to overcome the economic issues of social or demographic poverty, but that is not what ‘poverty-minded’ refers to in this context. 

Poverty-minded as it relates to this column refers to the mindset of those that are actually in a position to make transformation and revitalization happen.  Despite being in this position, they are stuck in a poverty-minded mindset due to the their long-term battle and association with poverty and community decay. 

I was recently made aware of a great example of this mindset on the business front. There was a business that wouldn’t accept credit cards because it cost a few percentage points on each of the transactions.  When convinced to move into the 21st century, they were thrilled as business increased nearly 30%. Trying to save those few pennies was costing them hundreds or even thousands in potential business.  These same problems exist on an even greater and more devastating scale in city governments and those who control the future and financial destiny of a downtown.

Make no mistake; this poverty mindset is an easy mind-set to have. As one watches the decay of their community, downtown or business accelerate around them, it is easy to believe that decay is normal and to be expected. After all, decay has happened and is in the process of happening to hundreds of towns across the country.

How does a downtown or business overcome a poverty-mindset and begin transforming?  What is the common ingredient that successful downtowns and businesses have adopted that flows through all their transformation and revitalization efforts?  I believe that common ingredient is found by simply looking at what might be the opposite of a poverty-mindset. That common ingredient is something we all seek, that of a positive can-do attitude.

The first step in any transformation and revitalization of a downtown or business is a strong vision coupled with a large of dose of optimism.  When you couple a strong vision with optimism, many downtowns and business ills can be overcome.  The poverty-mindset crowd or thought process must be overwhelmed with vision and a positive can do attitude that is infectious. Everyone wants to be associated with a winner; few want to claim to be a member of the losing team.

Yes, the vision must be realistic. Yes, the optimism must be based on that realistic vision.  Far too many downtowns and businesses fail to understand just how much ability they have to succeed.  Never under estimate the ability of the residents of a community and business owners to do outstanding things. Many downtowns and businesses are wallowing in their self-pity while others across the country are undergoing transformation that is incredible and sustainable.

Oftentimes, those biggest obstacles are our own citizens and those in a position to enact the greatest change.  The greatest task is converting them to the vision and the dream. Of course, you have quite a bit to lose as no change usually just means more of the same decay and demise of your downtown. 

As you might have determined, this column is short on actual specifics and long on mindsets and attitudes.  That is by design as it is the vision mindset and positive attitude that must be present in order to succeed. I have seen few if any downtowns or businesses succeed without first having this strong will to win and succeed. The time is now for change, and change we must or be rendered inadequate in the world that is transforming around us.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

Creating Downtown Vibrancy

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Mother Teresa

Recently we discussed the power of music and its ability to transform individuals and possibly, even communities. Shortly after writing that piece, I came across another piece about how music will impact the city of Claremore, OK.  Let me be the first to say, I am not beyond taking another idea and running with it, after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In fact, one of my favorite quotes is; “He who steals from me runs the risk of stealing twice.” I believe there are very few new ideas out there; we all need to help each other when it comes to revitalizing our downtowns and communities.

This week, I am going to do something I rarely do and double down two weeks in a row on the idea of using music to assist in the transformation of a community. I will also share an affordable idea that is being used around the country.

On the higher end of the revitalizing spectrum, one can visit Branson, MO. and spend time at Branson Landing.  This new project has become a must visit option in a city that is already ripe with many viable tourist options.  Visitors will be soothed by music as they shop, dine and explore the area. The music is a part of the landscape and was built-in to the Branson Landing project at the very beginning.  On the downside, as great as that may be, being perfectly realistic, smaller communities without the pull of Branson would be hard pressed to duplicate that exact project due to the high cost.

That is what made the Claremore project so intriguing. They are installing an affordable downtown sound system to share music throughout there downtown as are other communities around the country.  The Claremore project is being spearheaded by the local Main Street organization and they have tackled it in an affordable and very doable way.  In fact, this might be called a grassroots project; it is being crowd-funded into reality.  It appears they are concentrating on a three-block area of their historic downtown area. They have approached the local business community to provide a matching opportunity for local citizens that donate towards the total project cost of $25,000 towards implementation of the project. Being that the Main Street organization is a non-profit, all donations are tax deductible as well.

I point this out to show that regardless of the size of the community, if there is a will, there can be a way.  Smaller and mid-sized communities need to do everything they can to differentiate their communities from the sea of sameness we all experience all to often.  Anything your community can do that sets you apart in a positive way will be money well spent.

So many communities around the country offer the same predictable shops, the same mundane dining options and basically the same entertainment options. The more you can turn those shopping, dining and entertainment options into unique experiences, the greater the odds of success for your community.  

We have written often, and will continue to write about the impact of the online and digital onslaught to our communities.  Make no mistake; smaller and mid-sized communities are in war for their economic survival. The sooner communities realize this, the sooner they can get on with the business of transformation.

Unique experiences are the one thing that can’t be duplicated online or digitally.  When asked, how will our communities survive? The answer is in our ability to transform our routines of the past into novel and unique experiences moving into the future.  Creating a sense of place and community in your town is the ultimate arrow in the quiver as we battle the digital age.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

Can Music Help Revitalize a Community?

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”  Andre Gide

I recently read an article by Jeffrey A. Harris titled “Preserving the Sites of American Music”.  While reading this interesting piece, I couldn’t help but recall some of my fondest memories while growing up in California and Germany. When I sat back and recalled many of those fond memories, one of the commonalities was the emotional connection to music.

Music has the ability to connect people, transform thinking, awake innovation and capture what might be. Much like “The Arts”, it has the ability to bring people together, to mend relationships and spur excitement and innovation. We can all think back to music that has truly touched our lives in various ways.

So if music can do all those on a personal level, can it also do those things on a larger scale and actually assist in transforming communities? Can music be a part of revitalizing an entire community?

When one looks around the country, one will see evidence where music has made a huge difference in the transformation process of many communities. In Austin, TX. we see where a whole section of the city has prospered and grown on the backs of music. In Rochester, MN. the town center is devoted to music and arts and is packed on typical non-winter weekends and even during the week. In Moline, IL. the new Bass Street Landing and its outdoor band shell bring a whole new vibrancy to their downtown. Likewise, “The District” in Rock Island, IL. embraces the arts and music very effectively throughout the entire year.  Ogden, UT, once the home of a blighted downtown that people avoided after dark,has become a meca for lovers of music, the arts and entertainment for all ages.

While one can argue that Austin has always been a music town, all the others are simply regular small and mid-sized communities that saw the value of music and incorporated music into their plan of transforming and revitalizing their communities. None of them had a history rich with music, yet they utilized a medium that nearly everyone appreciates and can relate to by creating their town’s future through music and vision of what music can bring to their communities.

Those communities didn’t just wake-up one day and start promoting music or the arts for that matter. It was created with foresight, vision and strategy along with extensive planning.  In their cases, the planning stages weren’t long and laborious, but they were long-term and strategic. They pieced together a community-wide vision and then proceeded to make their vision become a reality.

Regardless if a community embraces music as a centerpiece or not, a community without music in their mix is no different than a community without retail or restaurants. A community without music will simply struggle and lose patrons to those communities that understand the binding power of music.

Music alone, however, will do little. Music combined or coupled with the right mix of unique retail and dining opportunities can transform entire communities. Communities would be well served to embrace the value of music as a part of their transformation and revitalization visions and plans. To leave it out will only encourage your local residents to seek this emotional stimulation in other nearby towns and communities.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

A Revitalized Downtown Leads Community Comeback?

“It is not necessary to change, survival isn’t mandatory.” – W. Edwards Deming

Not all change is good, not all change is bad, often change is neither good nor bad, it just is. When we review change in the review mirror, we can often evaluate what the ramifications of those changes have been. In the case of most small and mid-sized communities, the change that has taken residents and business away for the city core have certainly opened upnew opportunities, but at what cost?  Much of this change is a ticking time bomb that has created an unsustainable model when measured over the course of decades and future generations?

As we moved away from the urban model of living to a more suburban model of living, on one hand, it has expanded our communities and many of our opportunities.  On the other hand, it has also created an uncalculated financial burden that many communities are just now coming to grips with. Let me further explain by using a paragraph that I recently read in strongtowns by Rachel Quednau.

I quote, “When our towns changed course in the 1950’s and 60’s from the traditional to the suburban model of development, they were setting themselves up for this financial mess – only they didn’t do the math on maintenance cost that would’ve showed them that. They just kept building roads and subdivisions and strip malls. Today, we’re left to figure out how to pay for it all, and because so many homes and streets were built at the same time, they’re all falling apart and in need of maintenance at the same time. “

Let me continue Quednau’s piece, “While a traditional street built hundreds of years ago may have house 40-50 familiesand businesses in compact, modest buildings, the typical suburban street now houses just over 20 families in homes with large yards, spread apart from one another. We have half the number of households paying for a street that’s twice as big. No wonder the math doesn’t work out.”

It isn’t whether urban or suburban are right or wrong, both have their strengths.  It is simply that the suburban financial structure, unless modeled and planned for decades out is built in such a way that it will eventually become a huge financial burden to communities. That is even more so for communities that struggle with lower incomes and poverty.  Small or mid-sized communities need to understand that there is a way out of this dilemma, but it involves new thinking and bold actions.  Let me offer just a few.

Knowing that altering the current taxing system would take a yeoman’s effort requiring years of time, communities must adopt strategies that can be implemented quickly. Finding ways to return residents and business to their downtowns can start the change. Adopting strategies such as tax reduction or elimination for new downtown projects for a limited amount of time is a start.  Encouraging and even incentivizing the revitalization of older buildings into loft apartments and better business opportunities should be a community’s top priority.

Adopt the “if you build it, they will come” strategy for those downtown resident and business efforts. This pays for itself over time, as infrastructure upkeep is lower over the long haul.  The more people sharing this financial burden reduce the pressure on the community as it relates to upkeep and so forth.

One need not just consider the core. Look at the neighborhoods surrounding the core; what can be done to assure that all that space is fully utilized. Assuring that all those homes are occupied or torn down so new homes can be built is a must. Providing incentives for this ought to be a top priority. Simply by limiting as best you can the additional building outside of your current community footprint, you can avoid adding to the already difficult to maintain community footprint. We aren’t advocating greater control of where people build, but taxing bodies need to recognize that is a long-term burden and tax accordingly.

One of the best strategies a community can adopt is not falling for the same traps that we have been sucked into. As you build further out from your core, know and understand the financial ramifications of this strategy moving forward. Most communities already have to many roads that are failing, think twice before adding more.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net

How Do Communities Deal With the Retail Apocalypse?

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”  Tony Robbins

The coming retail restructuring or reset is well underway and every community, both small and large, is going to feel the pending fallout.  What many are calling the “Retail Apocalypse” isn’t only a small community or small retailphenomenon; it impacts all forms and sizes of retail across the board.  Mall and retail closings aren’t limited to smaller communities exclusively; cracks are showing in places such as the Chicago’s Miracle Mile and other high-end locations.  Credit Suisse, one of the premier retail sector analyzers in the country reported recently that one out of every four Malls will shutter their doors in the next five years.  This is on top of the previous closings across the country that account for a square footage footprint greater than the city of Boston.   

In a story in The Atlantic, they indicated: “The United States devotes four times more of its real-estate square footage to retail, per capita, than Japan and France; six times more than England; nine times more than Italy and eleven times more than Germany.”  One need not be a rocket scientist to determine that we are in for a major retail correction sooner, if not later.

When trying to rebuild one’s community, specifically their downtowns, the critical decisions your community makes today will be felt for years to come. If you believe you can buck the coming retail correction, you may be vastly disappointed. On the other hand, if your retail base starts to build their business around unique customer experiences, you might still have hope. Unique experiences are the one thing that online shopping won’t provide. In fact, many major online retailers including the largest, Amazon, are opening up bookstores and buying food chains. They are doing thisbecause they understand that customer experiences are vital to their overall long-term success. Apple stores, while selling technology, are selling experiences as well.

Forward thinking downtowns are looking beyond the retail space and adding more work opportunities in their downtown footprints.  While retail does add to the downtown ambiance, note that the highest rents paid in places like San Francisco, Chicago or Boston are rarely due to retail, it is due to being in a thriving business district.  Yes, retail and restaurants are part of the equation, but by in large, it is driven by the business district rents and occupancy.  As your community starts to attract the proper business base, it should then start taking advantage of the younger generations desire to live in a more urban environment. This involves the adding of loft-living, experienced-based retail and unique dining opportunities in the area.

Hardest hit by the current and pending retail apocalypse are the malls. Malls throughout the country are dead man walking in many cases. With thousands of malls and strip malls on the brink, what should small and mid-sized communities do to overcome this massive economic shift? We are seeing malls converted to satellite campuses for colleges, food and ethnic markets, entertainment venues, student housing, office projects, art studios, mega churches, paintball parks, post offices and so much more.

Regardless of whether your community or downtown has a mall to deal with or downtown to revitalize, now is the time for communities to take bold, and might I even say, unprecedented steps.  Now is the time to take a chance on your residents and incentivize them to be innovative and daring.  Yes, not all the gambits will yield great results.  Out of ten, you might get some great successes, a few middle of the road successes and a few failures.  All are great classroomlearning opportunities for future endeavors.  The worst thing a community can do during the next few years is to play it safe or be too timid hoping for better retail days ahead. Those retail days are likely a thing of the past and we must adapt.

John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@UniquelyUSA.net