There you are, going along, trying to get things done, making a little progress, and then someone hits you with the news. Someone has just pulled a really stupid move. Maybe it was the town government. Maybe the economic development group, chamber of commerce, legislature, or some powerful local organization. Whoever it was, they really messed things up.
For example, a small town of fewer than 3,000 just used the city government’s official Facebook page to invite food trucks from the nearby but much bigger town of 48,000 to come in and set up in the city park one night a week. One of your fellow readers is from that small town, and he is gritting his teeth over this one. They already lose enough business to that nearby big town. Why go inviting those businesses in to take away more local revenue?
Another town near me has about 12,000 people. Their municipal government sees the opportunity to bring in big name retail and restaurant chains. They are spending money on hiring a retail attraction consultant and sending staff members to a retail convention to do some recruiting. These big name businesses will make them feel like they’ve arrived, right? Except did anyone do any math on how much local revenue they’ll be losing, how much less money will recirculate in the community, how this is going to be a blow to their beautiful downtown? I was the one gritting my teeth on this one. I’m thinking about the loss of their local character, the missed opportunities to help local businesses fill those gaps, and the amount of revenue that is going to be drained from the community, sent off to faraway corporate headquarters.
What both of these have in common is the fact that the government is acting based on what they think is best for the community, but they are ultimately going to be hurting their local prosperity. What do we do? After we stop cursing under our breath, I mean.
I say we make the best of it. You have to build allies, not adversaries.
For the small town with the food trucks, I suggested to your fellow reader that he support the weekly food truck rally. But find a way to make it even better for LOCAL food trucks. Give any local trucks a huge county-fair style blue ribbon. Make big signs like campaign signs that say LOCALLY OWNED. Things like that. But maybe they don’t have any local food trucks yet. So maybe they can help local eateries participate with food wagons, or bringing food deliveries, or by partnering with out-of-town trucks to create something new. Maybe you have a local chef or cook who wants to start a restaurant, and they could partner up with the out-of-towners to the benefit of both.
Then talk to the city about extending this new-found love of mobile business to other kinds of local mobile business, like mobile services and mobile retail. Let’s see some action on mobile-friendly business permits, support of new developing businesses, and rallies for existing local businesses. Also, a little education about how local businesses support the local economy wouldn’t be amiss here. (See the reasons explained here.)
For my neighbor town that is out recruiting new chain retail, maybe this is a chance to get the city government to match that commitment with a commitment to support local businesses. Hour for hour of staff time, dollar for dollar what they are spending on the consultant and travel. That could be a huge boost to local businesses that are going to return twice as much of their total revenue back into the local economy. (Same reasons apply.)
What do you think? Have you had a chance to turn a “those idiots!” moment into something positive? How did you manage it?
Keep making your small town better,
PS – I really loved this video of how a small town mayor in New Zeland turned around the “no jobs!” “no workers!” conundrum that we all face.I thought you might, too.