Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.


February 2018
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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.


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