February 1, 2021

Dispassionate objectivity is itself a passion, for the real and for the truth.
-Abraham Maslow

I have seen communities come together and enjoy some of their biggest wins after a major employer leaves or after the loss of a big economic development project. The reckoning of these events often forges a new resolve to address weaknesses or to prepare for the next opportunity. The rejection experienced when someone says that they are choosing somewhere else can hurt, but it can also cause people to get much more serious about being prepared and having answers when the next time opportunity comes around. The pandemic has pushed us all back, shrunk the overall economy, but has served as a great excuse to take a hard look at ourselves.

Why would a business locate or continue to be located in our community? What is our value proposition? Is it our existing population, special infrastructure like broadband or water availability or access to a unique base of talent or customer base? Is it the overall cost of doing business, an advantageous tax structure or unique financing, proximity to other businesses (other employers or similar industries)? Can you move more quickly (permitting and approvals) than other communities, do you have a reputation for being responsive and flexible to get to “yes”?

Whether you are working to retain or attract small businesses, minority-owned businesses, larger commercial and industrial companies, or the entrepreneurial class, being prepared with good answers to these questions is a great exercise. It requires your team to compare and contrast against others, to think objectively about your actual value proposition and beyond our own prideful passions about our beloved cities and states.

Whether you have a strategic plan or not, it is worth some time at an upcoming board or community meeting to pose this question to your stakeholders – take a hard look (or maybe newly develop) a “pitch” deck, and test it with your stakeholders. Most of all, talk to your employers, location advisors, private development professionals, and ask them to weigh in. This rather simple exercise can help you clarify your value proposition, address some tough realities, and align allies to take action.

-Kenny McDonald