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