August 8, 2022

“We rise by lifting others.” 
Robert Ingersoll

Companies cannot outperform the communities they serve over the long-term, especially their headquarters locations. It is equally true that communities cannot outperform their private sector’s performance. These statements might be considered provocative, and I have never been able to source an empirical analysis that could prove this, but my experience has proven it to be very true.

Let’s unpack this a bit more and consider examples from your own experience. Companies can underperform in relation to their community if they are not run well or have a poor product or service versus their competitors. Companies can outperform the communities they serve or are headquartered in the short-term. As you might imagine, service firms and utilities are especially subject to this maxim, but even manufacturers tend to eventually begin to suffer if they are in a declining area, making it harder to retain and attract employees and maintain quality. Communities cannot grow their tax base without private sector jobs being maintained and created and investment into facilities, equipment, and technology. This theory is put to the test all the time as companies grow and industries and communities hit peaks and valleys.

So what? Why is this important? The first reason I write this now is that it is the single biggest argument I have to business and civic leaders to engage in the economic and community development process and in the organizations assigned this responsibility in their market. If I cannot succeed without you, then I am likely to invest in you, help you through the tough times and try to keep pace with you as you grow and build capability. This is true for business leaders in their community, and it is true for government and community leaders when it comes to primary employers, small businesses, and especially minority businesses. Companies are more likely to do well if they reside in, and help to create places that make it easier to source and keep talent, where the tax base is sufficient to maintain modern infrastructure to move their goods and deliver their services, and where innovation is curated and celebrated.

The second reason is that this is a great reminder for the economic development community to engage with their employers for the purpose of helping them succeed, innovate and enter new markets, and hire and retain quality people. For businesses, it is a reminder that communities can help them do all of those things when they partner effectively. In the best-case scenarios, this is a constant and dynamic process for both parties.

The final reason is that it seems that it needs said from time to time that we cannot succeed alone over time. We need one another to thrive if either is going to rise. We can all go our own way in the short-term, but over time, if we stay at the table and work to make each other better, both our communities and our businesses will do far better than their competitors.

Let’s have a special week. Lift each other up, lean in and listen, and engage with purpose.

-Kenny McDonald