I’m always glad when Good Ideas come out of Cincinnati, in part because it’s the town that I have called home for the last 15 years and in part because there’s pretty good stuff going on. Historically, Cincinnati has relied on its over-supply of Fortune 100 businesses, at least as compared to its population size, to drive community leadership. As I described in a section of the book called “Gorilla Ecologies,” most communities have lost their old-time corporate citizen leadership in the wake of business downsizing, splintering markets and international mergers — and that means that, whereas you used to be able to go to a small handful of local small business owners or other scions to Get Stuff Done, we don’t have those 500 – pound gorillas anymore. Instead, we have a larger number of 50 -pound gorillas, who have the potential to Get Things Done (perhaps better, and potentially more fairly, than the silverbacks), but they’re stretched thinner individually, and they need more help getting organized and getting in harness (yes, that section talks about gorillas in a harness, like draft horses. Just go with me on this one…)
But even in Cincinnati, the big gorillas can’t make everything happen alone. The regional Chamber of Commerce, which plays an unusually robust role in the area’s economic development and regional concensus-building, is talking about the need for new community business leadership, coming from those smaller businesses that used to let the Big Guys do all that community stuff. As the new Chairman describes in this profile article,
“Our big corporations have a lot on their plate, and a lot of regions to serve, and a lot of countries to serve, and by default they’ll make up less and less of how things get done around here.”
It will be interesting to see how this culture shift evolves. Cincinnati does have a strong corporate culture of community investment, but historically it’s been the Big Guys whom everyone assumes will come to the rescue. But that doesn’t make the message any less important: if even Cincinnati is realizing that it needs to rely on its smaller gorillas, how much more is that the case for your community?