Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.

 

November 2007
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Archive for November, 2007

Texas Attitudes

Modesty is a virtue….most of the time. When it comes to promoting your community, it can be a real drawback. Sometimes we are too close to our own community to appreciate what might be a real positive to a person who is new to the area or to a business that is considering locating here. Sometimes. Most of the time we are just too critical of what our area has and way too quick to point out what it lacks. Rural communities seem to do this more often expecially when they feel they are being compared with urban areas.

To counter that I suggest we develop a case of ‘Texas Attitudes.’ I’m talking about framing what we have in a positive way and not being afraid to boast a little bit. I call this ‘Texas Attitudes’ not just because of the Texas stereotype but because of a tourism commercial that the State of Texas aired on stations in Wisconsin several years back. In that commercial they were touting several reasons why we should vacation in Texas including a statement that Texas had over 500 lakes.

500 lakes! 500 LAKES! Now there’s a selling point sure to lure Wisconsinites…until you realize that plenty of Wisconsin COUNTIES have more lakes than that. In fact Wisconsin has over 15,000 lakes and if we want more we don’t have to travel to Texas, we can just go next door to Minnesota and visit some of the 11,000 they have over there. I checked several Texas tourism sites as I wrote this and found out that only ONE of their lakes is even natural. The rest are all manmade and I’ll bet that the ’500′ number included some large cattle watering troughs!

Not sure how many Wisconsin folks hopped on a plane to go visit one of those lakes but you’ve got to hand it to them for bravado. And frankly, we can all learn a little something from them. I’m not suggesting we should become braggarts and play footloose with the facts, but we shouldn’t sell ourselves short either.

A little dose of ‘Texas Attitudes’ can be a good thing.

Not Another Meeting! Part One

We’ve certainly learned to dread the word ‘meeting’ and not without good reason. But like it or not, meetings are here to stay so we might as well do everything we can to make them as productive as possible. As the Executive Director of three different community and county economic development groups during my career I’ve certainly attended my share.

Here’s what I’ve learned. When a meeting is well run people will attend and they will participate.

Sounds simple but it really isn’t. During my 12 year tenure with Grant County we usually held 11 monthly meetings each year. (We combined November & December into more of an ‘annual meeting/social.) We normally had about 17 people who were expected to attend as members of the board. Over that 12 year period we missed having a quorum only twice and during the last six of those years our average attendance was nearly 35 people. Twice the number that needed to be there. How did we do that? Here are some things that worked for us and the first things happen long before the actual meetings themselves.

Move the meeting site around. This was already in place before I came onboard. Grant County is a fairly large area, just a little bit bigger than the State of Rhode Island and the Grant County Economic Development had several community members. Each month a different community would host the meeting rather than holding all meetings in one central location like the county seat. There were a couple of benefits here. First it evened out the miles that everyone had to travel and if folks from one end of the county drove 60 miles to get to your corner of the county you felt a certain obligation to return the favor when they hosted.

The second benefit was we all got to learn firsthand about conditions throughout the county. Not just hear about them, but see them. When the folks in Cassville talked about the challenges of reaching their community we knew exactly what they were talking about after personally experiencing the 42 “driving opportunities” (my positive twist on the word ‘curves….sharp curves!’) on the last stretch of road leading into the community. We had a better appreciation for what they were doing to develop public spaces along the Mississippi River and we developed a real understanding of how important the employment provided by the two power plants was to them.

You can read it in a report and hear it at a meeting but ‘being there’ makes it real. Oh, and the size of the community doesn’t matter. If you were a member, you got to host a meeting. One little detail about scheduling the meetings. We had more members than we had months so we would do a drawing to determine who got to host which month. That way everyone had an equal chance at hosting a summer picnic or risking a snowstorm. We did let them trade with another community if they arranged it themselves but that was strictly up to them. It was a great arrangement that contributed more to building a sense of teamwork among our communities than you can possibly imagine.

You’ve heard of Management By Walking Around…..this was Teambuilding by Moving Meetings Around.