Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.

 

December 2008
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Archive for December, 2008

Recession Opportunities?

Ok, put that newspaper down. Back away from the TV and pull the plugs on the iNews updates. All the news is bad. You already knew that. The economy is going further South than bowl teams on New Years Day. The world as we know it is coming to an end. Or at least that’s the impression I get from all the media.

Yes things aren’t going well. Unemployment, foreclosures and business closings are all up. But does that REALLY mean that you can’t still be doing business in your community? Has everybody closed? Is this the Apocalypse?

Hold the four horses. Not by a long shot.

With every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton’s Third Law works in business too. Maybe not 100% but it DOES work. Ask anyone who owns an auto repair shop how business is. Ask anyone who makes replacement parts how things are going. You can even ask some skateboarders in California. There are definitely opportunities out there. You might have to look a little harder to find them and finding them might require some real work (imagine that) but they are there. 

Maybe now is the time to get folks together in your community and turn the coin over to find out what’s on the other side. Are there ways for your community to benefit from the effects of the recession? Do you have some prime industrial or retail space that is newly available and newly affordable that just might be attractive to another business. Could several of your local businesses find ways to cooperate to share the costs to help make some projects happen that would have been impossible six months ago. (What! Are you talking about working together! What a concept!) And the costs of building…..wanna bet the bids will come in under or over budget?

Maybe now’s the time to sponsor and deliver those business training sessions that will make your existing businesses stronger and more likely to survive. Maybe you could double your efforts to help start-ups, inventors and entrepreneurs. My guess is there is more interest out there with some folks who will be pretty dedicated to trying new things and who will be more than eager to accept any assistance that is offered to them.

And most importantly, now’s the time to get ready for the coming economic turnaround. No, I don’t know when it will happen but we all know that it WILL happen. How about preparing right now so you are ready to take full advantage of it right from the start.

Opportunities during a recession? To borrow a phrase from a recent political office seeker, “You betcha!”

Being who you really are.

Just finished reading an old “Across the Fence” column by Howard Sherpe in which he talked about jack-o-lanterns and how they didn’t really come to life until you placed a lighted candle inside them. He said the same thing was true about stained glass and people too. No true beauty until the light within was allowed to shine through.

That column brought back thoughts of a couple of experiences I had during my economic development career. In the first one we were entertaining company officials from France. They had spent a good part of the day with us learning about our community and what we had to offer as a location for their potential North American facility. They were staying over for the evening so we had the chance to take them to supper. When we were planning this the community mayor and I discussed our choices. One was a good local supper club. Our other choice was one that chance had provided us. Their visit coincided with the annual community chicken bar-b-que. This was a well attended and well lubricated event that drew a huge crowd each year and lasted well into the night. Not knowing our guests we decided to go the safe route and take them to the supper club. We showed up in suits while our French guests had gone casual with blue jeans and polo shirts. During the course of our meal we discovered that the president of the company had spent a year hitchhiking across the United States with no money, just a knapsack and a guitar.

Our evening was OK, but I always wondered what stories they would have told had we taken them to the bar-b-que and shown them the folks we really were. My guess is they would have all had a rip-roaring good time and we would have made a real connection with them.

Another related experience happened several years later. Another community was having a day-long follow-up visit with the main person from a major company considering a manufacturing location there. He would be staying the evening and we of course wanted to take him out for an evening meal. In this case the community did not have a traditional supper club. We discussed what to do and the leader of the local community ED group felt very strongly that we shouldn’t go to another community for the evening. We looked at our local alternatives and he decided that the local pizza parlor would be our choice. So the company rep was invited to join four or five us for beer and pizza. Best ‘business reception’ I have ever been a part of. Casual, relaxed and real. We had great pizza, a few pitchers of beer and an absolutely wonderful time. 

It wasn’t fancy. We didn’t put on the dog. We were just ‘us’. In the end the company chose our community and today is a major employer providing some of the best manufacturing jobs in the region.

I learned a big lesson from those two experiences. Our best impressions are the real ones. Letting our own light shine from within is the wisest choice. Trying too hard to impress others is tempting but the real winning strategy should center on being who you really are.