Archive for March, 2014

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TODAY, TOMORROW AND BEYOND – Preparing for the future?

March 12, 2014

Over the past several years, my friend Craig Hullinger, former Economic Development Director of Peoria Illinois, and I have annually surveyed our colleagues in the economic development, city management and the community planning profession asking what they believe are the “most important & biggest trends” influencing their daily work tasks both today and in the coming year.

This is always a fun exercise.

Most of our colleagues are “old guys” with 30+ years of experience.  However, we sprinkle some “younger blood” into the conversation so the old guys don’t mentally fossilize!

I decided this year to sit back and look deeply into the crystal ball again and characterize what in our collective opinion are the 10 most likely trends that will shape how communities conduct their community planning and economic development programs in the future.

The results were not what I expected.

In the past, we identified changes, ones I would say, were not very “transformational” to the profession.

The results of this current survey, I believe, are “life changing”.

In my opinion, the changes identified characterize a new generation of leadership and principles that will guide community growth as we journey through the remainder of the 21st Century.

With thanks to all contributors, here are my thoughts and predictions for this generational change.

1.  Old people will die – Generation X and Millennials (Generation Y) will lead.

The “baby boomers” are getting old and are leaving the work force – leadership is being transferred.

Senator Alan Simpson, coauthor of the Bowles Simpson Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Plan, on CNBC recently stated “there are 10,000 people each day turning 65-years old” resulting in baby-boomers retiring and leaving the workforce in massive numbers, some by choice and some by business downsizing via early retirements and layoff.

Today, Generation X, those ages between 34-54 years, are taking over corporate and government leadership.  Even the top job in the US, the President, is taken by a Generation X’er; 52-year old President Obama.

This younger generation, especially the millennials (Generation Y – aged 18-33 years), are better educated, more computer savvy, electronically connected and have different social, cultural and collaborative decision-making skills than the baby-boomers – skills which will change the way community engagement is conducted and community development decisions are rendered.

Younger, better educated and communication savvy men and women will shape the future and take care of the baby-boomer generation as it ages.

2.  History will be the future, if we let it.

Change is hard and the older you get, the harder it is to change – “inaction is easier than in action.”

History can be the predictor of the future, if we let it. Our government system is designed to make inaction easy.  As politically safe – it doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t rankle the electorate or create criticism. To many, a major transformation action is almost an impossibility, so why bother.

However, change happens, nothing stays the same and communities that realize that economic change will happen and take action are always better off.

In the future, communities that embrace action, rather than inaction, by continually reinventing themselves will gain economic sustainability as the global, national and local economy changes.

3.  Social networking is faster than coffee shop communications.

A recent NBC news report about the millennial generation commented on the continuous communication need of the generation that grew up with smart phones.   One millennial interviewed stated the importance of instant and continuous communication – “I get a bit nervous after 2-3 minutes if I don’t have my phone”.

Where baby-boomers recognized that the “morning coffee shop telegraph” was faster and had a bigger reach than the local radio & TV stations and newspapers in communicating with the community, today’s communication is instant communication by the smart phones that transfer “breaking news” throughout the community.

Beginning today and in the future, smart phone communication will replace the importance of radio, TV and newspaper communication in community decision making.

 4.  Population size matters.

The American landscape is filled with ghost towns and more will be created in the future.

The question of whether there is a minimum population necessary to have a community is serious question; one where academic research is needed. 

How many people are needed to support effective government with enough people to appoint to the planning, economic development and other committees?  How big does the community need to be to support a church, a Boy Scout Troop, and – yes – the local retail shops?

This is a serious inquire about the future of smaller communities leading to the question of how best to divide state and federal community support funds for infrastructure development and other community enrichment programs. Do we give potential future ghost town equal access to state and federal funding?

In the future, a minimum community population size will be needed to fulfill government management duties, support community social capital needs and bring into the community sufficient household income that can financially support local community retail needs.

5.  Simplicity and speed increases success.

Michigan’s community planning demonstrates lack of simplicity.  It requires preparation of three principal documents, the 20-Year Master Plan (63-day review period), a 5-Year Parks, Recreation and Green Infrastructure Plan (30-day review period) and a 6-Year Capital Improvements Program (which may not need a review period).   Add on a downtown or other authority and you have a 20-Year Development and Tax Increment Financing Plan with a 20-day review period.

Confusing, you’ll agree, I bet.

Even for us who daily work with these laws, it’s hard to explain.  It’s even understandably more difficult for the volunteer board member who is empowered to prepare the plans for their adoption or, after preparation, their recommendation for adoption by the legislative body.  The complex process of preparation of multiple plans and consolidating them into a coordinated community future strategy adds time and costs – simplicity would mean less confusion and faster preparation.

Pity the unknowledgeable citizen who comes to the public hearing and is faced with trying to fit together this mismatch of plans seeking to understand where the community is headed in the future.

In the future, comprehensive community future strategy will be simplified and easier to communicate expanding the ability for citizen input and greater understanding, all which will lead to a better community-wide understanding of which direction the community is heading.

 6.  99% may = success – but 1% can = failure.

Majority rule is thing of past, if we let it.

Even with 99% support, it’s possible for any initiative to fail when the 1% has sufficient money and legal ability to “tie-up” the process with the goal of never allowing a solution.

This problem is not only a Washington matter but one that plays out at the state and local levels.

This era of “political grid-lock” is a serious menace to participatory decision-making giving the impression that personal participation won’t matter so “why get involved”.

In the future reaching uncontested consensus will become the principal goal of community development initiatives, a process which will increase the time and cost of the community development process, and frustrate the electorate that seeks quick change.

7.  The sand box is market sized.

Riley Law of Retail Gravitation states that “all else being equal, a person will travel to the closest retail location for a purchase”.  This makes sense, especially when gas prices are reaching $4.00 per gallon; smart shoppers will travel to the closest retailer when the price and product are the same.

Riley’s law also helps define the modern community, being the market (or trade) area where people gravitate to for shopping and other services.

The reality is that, consumers today don’t pay much attention to which political jurisdiction they shop. The fact is, many don’t even know in which municipality they reside, except when voting and paying taxes.

Today, geopolitical boundaries are less important than economic market areas when defining community. 

Economic markets, in the future, will become even more important in defining community and be drivers of need for geopolitical redefinition to increase economic sustainability encouraged by community development planning and economic development strategy implementation separated from the confines of geopolitical boundaries.

8.  Taxable value is population growth driven.

Almost all communities rely on real estate taxes to fund governmental services and most local taxes are based on the value of real estate.

Ultimately the law of supply and demand rules the community real estate tax revenue.

Communities with population growth, new households added from in-migration and young folks setting-up their first households; stimulate demand for existing and new homes.

More households bring more spending creating the need for commercial real estate investment.

It’s easy to see that communities with population growth will tend to have an increasing real estate taxable value and those with stable or no population growth will tend to have a stable or decreasing real estate taxable value.

In the future, community population growth will become more important as a means to increase governmental revenue and community development measures will focus on actions to stimulate population growth.

9.  Bad times = innovation & entrepreneurism.

It’s an accepted fact that small businesses and entrepreneurs are the community job creators.

The economic recession has focused attention on this phenomenon to fulfill the job creation expectations of communities suffering from high unemployment.

It’s the mantra of economic development practice today – grow your own jobs!

Studies, most notable by the Kauffmann Foundation, demonstrate the promise of the “grow your own jobs” theory.  They document that 54% of millennials seek to start a business and that three of each 1,000 adults desire to start a business. 

Many start-up businesses result from the lack of job opportunities, others from the realization that starting a small business can be a personal career choice and for some the ability to mimic start-up financial success of others.

Economists have documented today’s post-recession recovery is no different than past recession recoveries shown by small business innovation and expansion trends presented daily in today’s media.

Community economic development strategy will continue to place more emphasis on innovation and efforts towards home-grown job creation by mentoring expandable smaller businesses, facilitating the start-up of new businesses and educating young people that entrepreneurship can be a  personally satisfying and financially rewarding career choice.

 10.  Status quo biases leads to failure.

Communities don’t easily change; in fact, there is a bias towards change.

It’s easier to deny the need for change than to implement change, but a community that doesn’t change stagnates.

Most often a major event – loss of a major employer – is needed to drive home the need for change.

There are individual and community wide mental biases against change and noted economist Thomas Friedman best describes five stages of the mental process leading to economic stagnation, with some editorial comments we’ve all heard, as follows:

1.  You’re wrong and I can prove it.

Everything is just fine – it’s always been this way.

2.  You’re right but it doesn’t matter.

Yes, we should make some changes but it won’t help.

3.  Ok, it’s time to change & we can.

Woops, we were wrong and we now need to make changes.

4.  Of course we need to change but it’s too late to do anything.

Ouch, we’re too late to make anything better.

5.  Yes, we must change but the disruption will do political damage.

I’m not going to take on this risky job – leave it to someone else.

In the future, many communities will march into the future with the community development goals they have…not the ones they want to have, or the ones they wish to have until they realize that a successful community is one that reinvents itself as the community and its economy changes and develops the civic leadership to guide that change.

SOME LAST THOUGHTS –

The future is bright, even though the economic development, city management and community planning profession face some big challenges.

This is not new; in my career my predecessors identified equally alarming challenges calling them opportunities, not problems.

So too, these ten thoughts and predictions pose challenges and opportunities for the future.

I believe today’s economic developers, city managers and municipal planners are ready and well prepared to accept these challenges and opportunities and serve as guides for the future.

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YOUR COMMUNITY BRAND – Fulfilling Customers Wishes

March 7, 2014

Is your community brand more than a logo in my face?

Come play, shop, work and live is the calling card of every community.  Many make this their logo and seek to brand this “come-on” in the conscious and subconscious mind of everyone.

However, it doesn’t work according to most marketing gurus! 

According to studies sponsored by Martin Lindstrom a global marketing expert and author of Brand Sense and Buy • ology, his scientific researchers found, with 99% scientific accuracy, a logo is not the end-all of advertising. “The logo which most people accept as being most important and powerful in advertising was infact the least important”.  They found the more the logo is presented the more the human brain glosses over the message until it become unmemorable.

But almost every community, I have worked with over the past 40 years has asked “how do we create a distinctive and memorable brand that’s stays in the mind of the folks that we want to come and visit our community.”

Maybe a better question for the community to ask is what do our customers want and how do we fulfill their wishes?

Lindstrom’s research shows that the human brain spends only a half second scanning ad content in print or electronic media. His research also shows the brain takes 2.5 seconds to make a purchase decision.

Branding, according to Lindstrom, works on personal emotions…”fulfilling the customers wishes…the way our brains encodes things of value… a brand that engages us emotionally will be remembered and win our attention every time.”

If correct, a community advertising campaign must grab the reader’s attention in one-half second and offer them something that captures their attention allowing their brain 2.5 seconds to make a purchase decision.

With this in mind, here are ten questions that every community should ask themselves when forming their community marketing strategy:

RELEVANCE – FULFILLING CUSTOMER EMOTIONAL EXPECTATIONS

1. What is the product or personal experience that our community is offering?

2. Is this what the customer wants or is it what we think the customer wants?

MEMORABLE DISTINCTIVENESS – OUR COMMUNITY’S UNIQUENESS

3. Is product or experience offering unique and different compared to our competition?

4. Do our customers know and recognize the product or experience is unique?

BELIEVABILITY – CREDIBLE AND TRUTHFUL MESSAGING

5. Is what we offer truthful – do we factually present our offerings?

6. Do our customers agree they can obtain what we offer?

EMOTIONAL BENEFIT COMMUNICATION

7. Do our products and experiences offer an individual personal emotional benefit?

FEASIBILITY – MESSAGE AND DELIVERY

8. Do we need to change the product and personal experience we offer the customer?

9. Do we need to change the way the customer perceives the product or experience we offer?

SUSTAINABILITY – LONG-TERM STRATEGY COMMITMENT

10. Are we ready to commit time and money to a “long-term” strategy of customer wish-fulfillment?

CONCLUSION

There is no doubt the human brain is a complicated instrument that can summarize and process incredible amounts of information sorting out facts, stimulating emotions and creating memories and then processing them into a rapid, spontaneous and unconscious purchase decision.

A community brand has to carefully fulfill personal emotional desires and needs for success. 

This is accomplished when the community’s products and experiences is something more than a “logo in your face” but something that triggers an emotion response, which becomes memorable fulfilling an individual’s specific wish or need.