I recently wrote about the death of the small town and how that death is being fueled by inaction on the part of city and state officials. As attractive as it is to bash the people we elect or the people those officials hire, the more progressive and impactful strategy is to offer up real solutions. And though all cities and regions are diverse in what they have to offer to current residents and those folks they hope to “woo”, I believe there are three key steps all cities can benefit from when it comes to fostering growth.
1. Perform a SWOT Analysis
This is an analysis organizations use regularly to identity their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Outlined below are some examples for each category.
Strengths: These should be qualities inherent to the city itself; qualities that are not dependent upon outside factors. Geographic location, schools (K-12/University), libraries, public healthcare facilities, a well-organized downtown or city center that promotes foot traffic for local businesses, etc.
Weaknesses: Like the strengths identified above, weaknesses are characteristics of the town that are inherent and are not subject to change by outside influence. Poor infrastructure or city design, geographic location, weak schools, limited real estate offerings or development potential both for residents and business, lack of investment by large employers, etc.
Opportunities: Opportunities are potential future strengths. What actions can be taken in the foreseeable future to increase the strength of the community? Recruitment of new businesses, ability to develop unused or underused land for growth or investment, demographics of local workforce are marketable to attract new businesses, improvements that can be made to city’s website and other marketing material to boost its profile, etc.
Threats: Threats are those things the city must protect against. In order to protect against them, though, they must be identified. Increase in federal regulations/interest rates that stall banks’ willingness to lend, high crime rate, dysfunction in municipal government and economic development organizations, change in state labor laws, poor leadership at the top, etc.
2. Formulate your vision around the findings of the SWOT
Given the above analysis, what can this city look like? What is the overall goal that can be worked towards for all current and future administrations, generations, and demographics? This is not simply writing a vision statement of what the city should do, but a true bird’s eye view of what the city should look like, how it works, who lives, works, shops, and eats there, and how do given organizations function with each other. What is the future of this city?
3. Sell the vision
The analysis of the current state of Anytown, USA and the construction of the vision that follows is all for naught if there is no action taken. Once all active parties agree on the vision for the city, steps must be taken to market the vision to current residents, prospective residents, local organizations, and outside organizations the city is looking to bring in. This is the real work. Selling a complex vision is difficult because people resist change. And that’s ok. Pushback is part of the democratic process and must be taken in stride while trying to do what is best for the city. What’s best for a city is not always what is best for each and every resident. That doesn’t mean they can’t reap the benefits or should be immune to the struggles, but it does mean that progress should not be halted because of one or two loud voices. (Good luck finding a politician that would write such an honest statement.)
The process of selling the city’s vision is more than what we think of as selling; it’s action. It’s actively and methodically moving towards small goals every day, year, and term, to one day see a dream realized. This can be done. This has been done. And for the sake of your small town, this must be done.
Adam Tidrow is the author of The 7 Page Business Plan and Founder of Hoosierpreneur LLC, an Indiana-based consultancy focused on guiding entrepreneurs through the start-up and business development process. Reach out at email@example.com