Rob asks, “So what?”

Last week when we talked about Richard Florida and every town needing to have a narrow niche, my friend Rob Hatch said, “all of the information is amazing, but what do I do with it?” 

Rob doesn’t work in economic development or tourism or the chamber of commerce. He is “just a business person” in a small town in Maine. What role can he play? If the answer involves committees, long boring meetings, SWOT analyses, or plans that end up sitting on shelves, then you can forget about it, because Rob, like a lot of us, has no interest in that. And honestly, despite all the time I’ve spent doing exactly those kinds of things in the past, I have no interest in them any more either.

That doesn’t relieve us of responsibility. “Business, economic development and community development are everybody’s business,” Debra Hansen, Washington State University Extension, told me. I agree, and I think we can take care of business without sitting through committee meetings. 

Here are two things you, just one person, can do to help your small town have a better future.

1. Shop local.

You vote with your money. So vote for your town more often. Vote for your local business owners more often.  Yes, I know you can’t get everything locally and Amazon is really convenient. Yes, I know it’s fun to go to the big city for a day of shopping. It’s also fun to have a thriving town of your own to play in, so make the decision to shift your shopping a little at a time. 

2. Support local businesses. 

Support isn’t just about money. It’s about showing support, being vocally supportive. Groups can give entrepreneur of the year awards. Publications can brag up local businesses. You can open your mouth and tell business owners that they are appreciated. 

You may think I’m crazy with this one, that it doesn’t matter what you say. Actually, it matters deeply. Take Fred Carl, Jr., for example. He was a fourth-generation home builder based in Greenwood, Mississippi. He could see that more people wanted commercial-style kitchens in their houses, but ranges or stoves designed for restaurants really weren’t suited. So he designed a stove of his own, and he spent years running his construction company while working on the design project on the side. 

“We had a rough time in the early days,” Fred said. “I remember once I said, ‘Margaret, let’s pull up stakes and move to Jackson.’ But I couldn’t do it. I’m hardheaded. You have to be. Plus, so many people from Greenwood would stop me on the street and say, ‘Hey, Fred, how’s the stove project?’ I’d never have gotten that support in Dallas or even Jackson. I might not even get eye contact in New York. In fact, ain’t no way in hell I could have done Viking anywhere else but Greenwood. This is my cocoon.”

(Source: Inc. Magazine.)

The stove project that Fred started on the side grew into Viking Range Corporation.

When is the last time you stopped someone on the street to ask how their crazy idea was coming?