Excerpt: That Which Makes you Unique Makes You Valuable

This selection comes from an early chapter of The Local Economy Revolution: What’s Changed and How You Can Help.  If you like it, you will probably like the whole book. You can learn more and order it in the format of your choice (print, digital, Kindle) right here.

 

That which makes you unique makes you valuable

 

My biggest difficulty in Christmas shopping (other than trying to remember which Lego set the younger kid said was the really wonderful one, and which one was lame),  is trying to find something that will be unique and valuable for the person who will get it.

To be sure, I don’t strive for that for everyone — the gift for Great Aunt Sophie doesn’t always get the same level of thought as others — but to the extent that I can, for the people who really matter to me, I am looking for something that is

  • different from what they will get from anyone else,grocery store shelf
  • different from what they already have, and
  • something that they will value.

So for my cool sister-in-law, I am looking for a funky necklace made out of natural materials.  For my niece, I am looking for an outfit that captures her free spirit and will look great on her.   For my kids… well, you know, we get a list, most of which is incomprehensible to me anyways.   Nevermind.

But here’s the kicker: I will probably be willing to pay at least a little bit more for the perfect funky necklace or free-spirit outfit than I would for a typical string of beads or a boring t-shirt and pants.

And because that’s what I am looking for, I am also more likely to stray from the beaten path and go shopping somewhere other than Target.

The germ of the thought is this: That which makes a place unique makes it more valuable to the people who want it. And since we harp constantly on the need to win and retain Talent (the potential employees who have the skills we value), becoming valuable to at least some subset of that Talent matter more than ever. Talent will typically value your community more, care about it more, invest in it more, if the experience you offer differs in a valuable way from what they can get somewhere else.

A lot of times it’s easy to see our communities as commodities, like the plastic toys on a shelf in a big store.  If I can get the same transforming thingamabob at Big Box A vs. Big Box B, then I will probably buy it where it’s cheapest.  That’s the general retail Race to the Bottom — if there is nothing that makes your store different other than price, then you will win or lose based on how cheap you are.  Any other factors go out the window.

But if you are the only store that carries the way cool thingamabob, then you not only win the sale, but you don’t have to charge the rock-bottom price, right?

It’s the same with our communities.   If we regard them – and promote them – as commodities, then the only way that we attract new businesses or people – or keep the people and businesses that have the wherewithal to go elsewhere (typically, that’s our Talent) – is if we make ourselves the lowest-price option.

That is what economic development incentives were about in the first place – making the costs of a location lower, or at least even with, the competition.

Think about it:  If my community sales pitch is that ” we are within 600 miles of 75% of the United States,” and hundreds of other communities can make the same claim, then what reason does any Talented entrepreneur or business operator have to come to my community – unless I am the cheapest?

And when I am no longer the cheapest, what reason do they have to stay?

Our communities’ ability to succeed long-term depends on our ability to capitalize on and communicate those features that make our community unique, and therefore valuable.

 

___

There are a lot of elements of any community that are nice but numbingly common – “we have a great work ethic,”  “we have rail service,” etc.    But it’s the unique elements – the ones that make your community different, the ones that cannot be replicated by someone else – that will make you more valuable to someone than anything incentive you can offer.  If you are not playing to your uniqueness, then you are joining the Grand Caravan of Commodities on the Race to the Bottom.

A couple of important words of warning, though.

 

  • First, what is unique and valuable to one person is a white elephant to another.  If you establish yourself as something unique, you become like a gourmet cheese — people will either pay more for your one-of-a-kind taste and texture, or they will drop you back on the shelf when they get a whiff of you.   If your downtown is renowned as the Victorian Antiques Capital of Your State,  a lot of people would consider  that a point in favor of moving there.  I myself, on the other hand, will probably look somewhere else
  • Second, fake uniqueness will hurt you worse in the long run than being a commodity. There’s a refrain/long Twitter hashtag that I’ll throw out in a later chapter: “#LookWhatYouCantGetAwayWithAnymore.” Trust me on that one for now.
  • Third, remember that your community has many aspects that make it unique, and it is that entire package, not just one Claim to Fame, that Talent will be looking for. And different elements will appeal to different Talent groups. And that’s a good thing. Relying on one Talent group would be like relying on one industry to employ everyone in town. We should have learned by not that that’s not the most prudent idea.

 

 

Story Time: Help share The Local Economy Revolution at SXSW 2016

The international tech mega-conference South By Southwest Interactive has been showing more and more interest in remaking local government in recent years.  But even though conference organizers pretty clearly want to talk about it, they seem to get only a few submissions for panels or presentations on those topics.

As you might guess if you’ve read anything from this book, we’d be glad to oblige.

I’ve submitted to do a short reading and discussion from The Local Economy Revolution at next year’s SXSW, and as is their usual practice, part of how they choose submissions depends on popular votes.  That’s where you come in.

If you think that the social entrepreneurs, tech wizard, startup mavens and the thousands of other people who attend SXSW might benefit from an introduction to how they can help transform their own communities, I’d be grateful for your support.  Voting is quick, free and easy (it does involve a basic sign-in that lets you review and vote on all the submissions), and you don’t have to be planning to attend the conference to vote.

To vote, just click here

Yeah, that pesky tax cut impact data: the long term view from Brookings

The Brookings Institution delivered another blow to the received wisdom that tax cuts generate economic benefits the other day, with this post examining the long term impacts of the federal deals that set the ground work for similar programs nationwide.  Here’s a selection:

But the record is clear that tax cuts have not boosted growth.  When growth is (appropriately) measured from peak to peak of the business cycle, the vaunted Reagan tax cuts in the early 1980s produced a period of average growth. Indeed, research by Martin Feldstein, President Reagan’s former chief economist, and Doug Elmendorf, the former Congressional Budget Office Director, concluded that the 1981 tax cuts had virtually no net impact on growth.

Virtually no one claims the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts stimulated growth. Despite cuts in tax rates on ordinary income, capital gains, dividends, and estates, economic growth remained sluggish between 2001 and the beginning of the Great Recession in late-2007.  The growth that did occur, however, is generally attributed to the Fed’s easy money policy….
Despite all of this, the zeal for lowering income tax rates, especially at the top, spread beyond Washington decades ago. Failure at the federal level does not necessarily imply that tax cuts would fail at the state level too.  Lower taxes might lure businesses from other states, even if they yield no collective increase in jobs or output.  But the stakes are higher for the states, which can’t borrow the way the Federal government can. As a result, they often end up enacting regressive tax increases or regressive spending cuts when high-income tax cuts fail to produce the promised growth.

In the 1990s, six states cut taxes by more than ten percent, mostly by enacting significant personal income tax cuts.  However, only the tax-cut states that were boosted by the financial boom rose faster than average.  Between 2001 and 2007, Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island cut personal income taxes.  Only New Mexico and Oklahoma, which benefited from oil and gas trends, experienced net gains in their employment share over an extended period.

The most widely-reported recent state income tax cut occurred in Kansas in 2012. Gov. Sam Brownback argued it would be “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” The tax cuts did not produce the hoped-for growth, though, and more revenue was lost than originally anticipated. Fiscal year 2014 revenues were $700 million lower than FY 2013 — $330 million less than expected – during a period in which most of the American economy was picking up steam. Put in context, these numbers are pretty significant: $330 million represents more than 5 percent of Kansas’ government spending from general funds.   Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s reduced Kansas’ credit rating, and the state failed to keep up with the region’s pace of job growth.

Somewhere early in my entrepreneur years, I was told by someone much wiser than me that “you have to spend money to earn money.”. That doesn’t by any stretch mean that all the things we’ve spent money on in economic development over the years were necessarily the right things to spend money on, but it does mean that once again, starvation diets seem to have less than the promised impacts over the long run.

It’s not about one dude: my interview on downtown revitalization for Nevada Public Radio

Last week, when  I was in Las Vegas to mentor at the South By Southwest Venture to Venture (SXSWv2v) conference, I was invited to speak on Nevada Public Radio’s news show, State of Nevada, about community revitalization and recent business closings in Downtown Las Vegas. I’ve been studying the Downtown Project and Las Vegas pretty closely over the past couple of years, and as I’ve written about here and elsewhere, I think they represent a new and potentially beneficial approach to the age-old questions of how to revitalize an older city commercial district.

But the Downtown Project has gotten some rather unflattering press, I think in part because of early lack of transparency and a little naivete, but mostly because the people who have been writing about them appear to have very little understanding of what it takes to revitalize a city –  what I referred to in another piece as “the long hard slog of community revitalization

As you’ll see and hear in the introduction to the show, the “look it’s all failing and it’s that guy’s fault” angle was pretty pronounced — I was actually a little surprised at how sharply the claws came out from the start (I know, if it bleeds it leads — I get that. But this is public radio!)

So by the time the host brought me into the conversation, I had concluded that it was time to insist on a more reasonable narrative — one that wasn’t about One Guy and a few short term issues, and more about the long view, placing their city in a national context, and building a realistic perspective on the whole range of people who are investing in this city.

I also made some observations about a few of the inherent advantages that I think Las Vegas has in the fight for revitalization – and these come in part from a culure of optimism, of willingness to try something new, that I don’t always see in cities that are trying to revitalize themselves. I haven’t heard as much “that won’t work – we tried it before” as in many places – in part because they haven’t developed that legacy of failed attempts yet. Some of those things I said might look a little suck-up-y in print, but I meant them.

One thing that I am starting to think about, though, is this: I’m familiar with one-industry towns — and interestingly, one of the other speakers seemed to think that this was unique to Las Vegas, and didn’t seem to recall that Pittsburgh and Detroit and many of the other cities we had been discussing had been one-industry towns for a very long time.  The challenge that urban observers often note in places like that is that the big industry presence seems to have a negative impact on entrepreneurial culture – people who might be inclined to be entrepreneurial don’t know anyone else who owns a business, they’re not encouraged to see that as an option, and they haven’t learned from their surroundings the basics of how to make that work.

Like I said, Las Vegas doesn’t seem to have as much of the fatalism that you see in the eastern cities that I have grown up with.  But I’m wondering if there might be some lack of entrepreneurial how-to context – not only among potential business owners, but among observers who seem to think that a big pile of money should solve everything, and solve it overnight.  And who view six businesses closing (without looking at the number of openings, which has been huge) as a sign of the End Times.

three businesses

Three brand new businesses in rehabbed buildings. None of which were mentioned in the “six businesses have closed!!” setup. My photo, July 20.

You can listen to the interview here, either streaming or download.  About the first 20 minutes are the other three panelists (a business reporter, a real estate guy and a councilman) having an inside ball conversation. If you deal with reporters, or councilmen, or real estate guys in your town, this part will probably be same tune, different words for you.  Three new businesses in Downtown Las Vegas. As in, brand new. None of which were mentioned in the broadcast. My photo.

But I think you’ll find the way the conversation changed after I came in interesting. I don’t know why this happened, but after I reframed the issues and kind of forced a broadening of the perspective, the other speakers largely dropped the accusations and began to talk about the deeper important issues – even though the periodic reminders of the topic had what seemed by now to be a jarringly snarky tone.

And I think that’s a powerful lesson  for all of us: sometimes a point-by-point rebuttal of the naysayers isn’t what’s really needed.  What’s needed, both for a specific conversation and for the community, is to be able to pull back and see the big picture of community revitalization.  If we could do that effectively, we could probably help ourselves-and our communities – a great deal.

I hope you enjoy the listen.  If you need help changing the conversation in your community, please do let me know.

The Wise Economy Manifesto, version 2.0

This is a selection from The Local Economy Revolution: What’s Changed and How You Can Help.  If you like what you read here, you’ll probably like what you read in the book.  Learn how you can pick it up in print or for your Kindle, iPad or other electronic reader right here.  

In 2010, I left a Big Engineering Firm to start my own practice.  I knew there was stuff that was rolling around in the back of my head that increasingly conflicted with what staff in Big Engineering Firms usually get to do, and I’d reached a point where that conflict wasn’t sustainable if I wanted my brain to stay in one piece.

By that point, I had worked with communities in the U.S. doing assorted kinds of planning for a lot of years.  I’d stood in the midst of places that were thriving, and I’d walked with staff and residents through places that were collapsing.  From what I saw and what I knew about economies, planning, organizations and psychology, I found myself in a small but growing army of folks advocating for a deep-seated reset to how we who deal with communities do the important work we do – convinced that the needs are bigger than a new program or a new method.

And because my experience had covered so many different kinds of situations, I was inclined to seek a holistic approach – a sort of universal theory that made sense of the fundamentals that seemed to underlie what was going on.

So I wrote a thing called the Wise Economy Manifesto, and in it I tried to encapsulate everything I was thinking.  Which is usually a really bad idea.  And while I thought at the time that the Manifesto part had a cool ring to it, now it strikes me as a little pompous.  But like most of what we put on the internet, it’s out there, and it’s my own baby, goofy as it may look.

So it’s not perfect, but I think it gives a decent framework for the big issues we’ll be discussing.

  • Communities are human ecosystems. Everything we do, whether a land use plan or an economic development incentive, or any other public policy, isn’t going to stay in the silo where we put it.  What we do will have wide and deep, and often unintended, repercussions, and we need to change how we work and think to anticipate those as best we can.

 

  • That which makes you unique makes you valuable. Communities cannot offer everything to everyone, and they shouldn’t try to.  The great challenge of planning and economic development is to uncover, brush off, and illuminate those characteristics that make a place deeply, meaningfully unique.  There is little value in being a commodity, but much opportunity in a well-defined niche.

 

  • We have to focus on cultivating our native economic species. The thing that grows naturally where you are can, with a little help and protection, provide more long-term benefit (and fewer of those unintended repercussions), than the exotics that we try to transplant at great cost.  In this era, the chase after the flashy, the big, the long shot, is too costly and too risky to deserve the lion’s share of our attention.

 

  • Beware the magic pill. We all want easy answers; we all want there to be a simple solution.  There isn’t one.  We have to get used to it, and commit ourselves to incremental, complex, messy change.

 

  • Crowdsourced wisdom is the best way to find a real solution. We have tough challenges in front of us, and we need all the bright ideas that we can get.  Our communities are full of those bright idea sources, and they know things that we don’t.  But just like water needs to be guided into a channel before it can drive a turbine, we have to take the lead in guiding our community’s wisdom into fruitful efforts.  An open mic in the middle of the room ain’t gonna cut it.

 

  • We who have the job of helping communities work better have to be brave. We have to reconnect to the reasons why we got into this, before the rules and bureaucracy and politics tried to beat it out of us. Whether we want to or not, we are going to be on the front line of the fight for new solutions, and we are going to be useless if we are just punching the clock or wandering from election to election.  We have to critically re-assess our professions and organizations and communities, and find the fortitude to break through the walls that are keeping our communities from being successful.  We cannot be foolhardy, and we must admit that we don’t have all the answers.  But we have to be brave enough to do our job, and to lead the expedition.


This is a selection from The Local Economy Revolution: What’s Changed and How You Can Help.  If you like what you read here, you’ll probably like what you read in the book.  Learn how you can pick it up in print or for your Kindle, iPad or other electronic reader right here.  

 

How to Do Public Meetings That Aren’t Miserable — and Actually Make Your Community Better

The International Economic Development Council’s ED Now ran anarticle last week that I wrote to explain why economic development people should be thinking about how to do public engagement more effectively — and why the ways we’ve been taught (or not taught) to “engage” the public so often end in anger and misery — for the public, and for you. It gives you a little introduction to theCrowdfunding Wisdom approach to public engagement, which is designed to give you more useful information and your residents and business owners a more positive and more constructive experience.

If you’re an IEDC member, you can check out the article here. For the rest of you, I’ll post an earlier draft here. If you want to learn more, check out the book atwww.CrowdsourcingWisdomBook.com.

 — —

We have a problem with how we deal with the public. We have this problem in all types of government and community professions, but the more we find ourselves required to work with business owners and residents and community groups, the more this problem threatens to further impair our ability to help our communities.

The Problem

The methods, the assumptions that we rely on to figure out what people want their governments to do, to try to get them to understand why we’re building this or that, to get people involved in decisions the way we know we should…

They’re not working. Too often, the only response we get is a useless, ill-informed, sometimes crazy response. And on top of that, we fail to hear from the thousands who could very well know something crucial to developing useful plans, setting effective policy. And whose support we need to build political support for the hard decisions that our communities increasingly have to make.

Those people are not failing to participate because they don’t care about the places where they live. They’re not failing to participate because they don’t care what we do.

The International Economic Development Council’s ED Now ran an articlelast week that I wrote to explain why economic development people should be thinking about how to do public engagement more effectively — and why the ways we’ve been taught (or not taught) to “engage” the public so often end in anger and misery — for the public, and for you. It gives you a little introduction to the Crowdfunding Wisdom approach to public engagement, which is designed to give you more useful information and your residents and business owners a more positive and more constructive experience.

If you’re an IEDC member, you can check out the article here. For the rest of you, I’ll post an earlier draft here. If you want to learn more, check out the book atwww.CrowdsourcingWisdomBook.com.

— —

We have a problem with how we deal with the public. We have this problem in all types of government and community professions, but the more we find ourselves required to work with business owners and residents and community groups, the more this problem threatens to further impair our ability to help our communities.

The Problem

The methods, the assumptions that we rely on to figure out what people want their governments to do, to try to get them to understand why we’re building this or that, to get people involved in decisions the way we know we should…

They’re not working. Too often, the only response we get is a useless, ill-informed, sometimes crazy response. And on top of that, we fail to hear from the thousands who could very well know something crucial to developing useful plans, setting effective policy. And whose support we need to build political support for the hard decisions that our communities increasingly have to make.

Those people are not failing to participate because they don’t care about the places where they live. They’re not failing to participate because they don’t care what we do.

They’re failing to participate because the way we do these meetings gives them a pretty clear message that we don’t want them to have a meaningful role in the process.

What we really want, in the depth of our guts, in the place where the reasons why we went into this profession or ran for office or went on this committee still live, is to help make this community better. We want to make the right decisions, anticipate and address the issues that might affect the community in the future, use the money and people and other resources that the community has as wisely as we can.

And if we’re really honest, we often have to admit: we don’t know how to do that.

Ten or 30 or 40 years ago, our predecessors in these roles hired Experts — Big Deal Architects, Big Name Economic Development Types, Big Budget Think Tanks, people who offered Big and Easy Solutions.

As you might have noticed, a lot of those haven’t worked. When you look back on the projections, the visions, the promises, what they said and what came to pass very often don’t match up. And for many of us, the great challenge that faces us today consists of trying to fix or undo the damage that those Big Solutions caused.

As the era we live in becomes more and more unpredictable, as we start seeing ever so acutely how one issue in our community unexpectedly impacts another, as we realize that the future, whatever it will be, probably won’t be a simple linear extrapolation of past growth…

We come to realize that expertise based on the past has less and less relevance. Even major business publications are questioning the purpose, the most rudimentary value, of expert advising.[i] They’ve been lead down the wrong path a few times as well.

Private sector businesses, from the largest to the smallest, are increasingly turning to crowdsourcing to try to get a handle on the emerging issues, the disruptions and the out-of-left-field new ideas that have the potential to catapult them into a market lead (or, if they miss it, shatter them to bits). Crowdsourcing enables businesses to gather ideas, solutions, designs, sometimes even blueprints, from a wider range of people than they could every employ or contract on their own.

And even more surprisingly, businesses increasingly use the “crowd” to sift through the options and select the ones that will work best. Academic research[ii] has been demonstrating for a few years that the Crowd does these two steps better than the Experts, and that crowd-designed and crowd-selected results tend to perform better on a variety of measures than when experts design and select them.

Businesses have to work like fury to attract their Crowd. They put a huge amount of effort into reaching their Crowd, convincing their Crowd that it’s worth their time to participate, keeping their Crowd plugged in and participating. Their ability to provide value depends on their Crowd, and when you’re crowdsourcing for T-shirts or motorbikes, you’re competing for their attention with a lot of other shiny but not all that important products.

In our world, where we’re trying to make communities better, we’ve got a Crowd that’s eager and waiting for their chance to participate.

We already have what those businesses are spending so much money to build.

We just need to open the doors, to give them a way to participate, in a way that matters.

But just asking isn’t enough

If you’ve been around the block a few times, you know what happened the last time you asked residents what they wanted. I often compare the responses we get to the lists that my kids used to prepare for Santa Claus:

“I want a dollhouse… and a pony… and a rocket launcher… and a baby brother…and a unicorn…”

Kids eventually figure out that Santa Claus can’t actually deliver the way he promised, and that’s when they start questioning our whole system of magic-holiday-gift-givers.

Adults who respond to a civic invitation to identify their “vision” or give their “recommendations” often don’t know that what they’re offering is at the same level of realism as that baby brother or unicorn. If you don’t know the ins and outs of zoning regs and state enabling regulations and nonprofit funding sources, you’re not going to know that what you’re asking for isn’t feasible. And the way we community leaders handle those uninformed requests looks a whole lot like how we as parents handle Santa Claus questions: we sidestep, we hem and haw, we make empty promises to “see what happens,” and then… we fail to deliver, with no comment.

If we want to meaningfully engage the power and potential of our people, we need to give them a channel. We need to enable, empower them to do much more than spout ill-informed NIMBYisms or buy into knee-jerk cause-effect assumptions. We need to

  • Draw on the unique knowledge, perspective and expertise of everyone we can get,
  • Get them reasonably up-to-speed on the issues, and
  • Engage them — get their hands deeply into — the search for solutions… solutions that are realistic and address the complexities and ambiguities of real community life.

We often shy away from that, because we don’t trust the public. We’re afraid they’ll say something crazy, they’ll have different ideas, that they won’t Get It. But chances are, there’s something we’re not Getting, either. The crucial, and too often missing piece, is that we have to create a structure in which constructive collaboration between us and them can happen.

How to CrowdSource Wisdom

Every Crowdsourcing Wisdom event works a little differently, and the details of how you fit the process to the people cannot be overlooked. But here is the basic structure:

  1. Meeting attendees work together in small groups. Whenever possible, it’s good to make the groups random so that people are less likely to be working with people who are exactly the same as they are.
  2. Establish some basic rules of engagement — guidance as to treat each other, how to make decisions, how to resolve disputes, and so on. Basic rules of engagement give everybody some confidence that they will be able to participate, and have a fair chance to be heard — and it gives them the power to stand up if someone is trying to hog all the attention.
  3. The group has a specific activity that they need to complete together. This is more complex than “do you like this design or not?” The group activity might have to do with analyzing the factors behind an issue, designing a potential solution to a thorny problem, or setting priorities for future programs. Each group does its work together on a large paper that walks them through the process.
  4. The groups work largely independently. My big work was on the front end — planning the activities, preparing the materials, setting up the groups and framing the rules. Once the activity is underway, I focus on monitoring, sensing emerging issues, fine-tuning and redirecting if a group gets lost in the weeds or can’t seem to come to a conclusion.
  5. The group shares its work with the rest of the participants, so that everyone gets to understand what the other groups did.
  6. Everyone has an opportunity for individual response. This might involve “voting” for their top priorities across all of the groups’ solutions, or allocating “money” to indicate where they think the majority of the effort should go.
  7. The results of the meeting are clear for everyone to see. Since everything was done on paper, there’s no question about whether some staffer with an agenda accurately reported the results, or took a colorful quote out of context, or mis-interpreted a minority position as The Conclusion.

The Results

I learned to use methods like this during my early career as a middle school teacher, and I’ve used Crowdsourcing Wisdom methods in dozens of communities and with thousands of people over the last 20 years. And this is what I consistently find:

  • The people who participate feel like they’ve been asked to do something worthwhile. They feel like the participation has been worth the time and effort they invested.
  • The officials and staff feel like they have gained useful information. They have a clear picture of what the community values, where its priorities, lie, what it should focus on.
  • Officials, staff and participants feel like they have been part of a positive experience. They’ve built relationships with people, they’ve been able to focus on positives instead of just complaining, and they feel like they might actually have some power to help make their community better.
  • Even just one Crowdsourcing Wisdom event seems to start to overcome all those decades of bad public meeting experience. Suddenly, attending a public meeting doesn’t look like such a bad idea.

Learn more about Crowdsourcing Wisdom at http://crowdfundingwisdombook.com

[i] Ron Ashkenas, “Change Management Needs to Change.” Harvard Business Review, April 16, 2013. https://hbr.org/2013/04/change-management-needs-to-cha.

[ii] Brad Power, “Improve Decision-Making with Help from the Crowd.” Harvard Business Review, April 8, 2014. https://hbr.org/2014/04/improve-decision-making-with-help-from-the-crowd/.

Building a Small Business Ecosystem in Montana

Two weeks ago I had the great opportunity to do an expanded version of my Small Business/Entrepreneurship ecosystem talk for the Montana Economic Development Association and for a selection of business owners and community leaders from Great Falls, Montana and surrounding communities.  With both groups, I had a chance to not only do the talk, but to also do some hands-on training (using methods oddly similar to those in Crowdfunding Wisdom: a guide to doing public meetings that actually make your community better…).

When I do sessions like this, the organization usually picks up some local press, but the quality and insight of the reporting that we received from the Great Falls Tribune was head and shoulders above what I’ve come to expect.   Not only did they do this very nice article that included this pretty good summary quote:

It may be tempting to put up some banners and flower pots, design a nifty logo and put window displays in vacant buildings, hoping economic development follows, but Rucker said that is rarely successful.

Instead, local governments can take leadership positions when community members are unable to move the needle on big challenges. Other times, government can be more of a feeder instead of a leader.

The difference is offering support instead of doing things local nonprofits and business owners can do themselves, she said.

barbershop

Marvin Newkirt at The Barbers Chop Shop (Photo: TRIBUNE PHOTO/AMANDA DETERMAN)

But they also accompanied it with this more in-depth article that weaves together some of my comments fron an interview with stories of local small businesses, quotes from other local leadership and statistics from the Small Business Administration.  I especially liked how the reporter, Briana Wipf, pulled this insight out of our interview:

While Rucker was in Great Falls, she heard about existing projects by residents who wanted to see revitalization in the community.

“It clearly demonstrates that this is a place that has a social fabric,” she said.

But even communities that don’t already have that tradition can build a network of individuals and business owners who want to build a town ripe for entrepreneurship.

That won’t happen overnight, but grass-roots movements are better at recognizing “what the best use we can be looks like,” she said.