Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.

 

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Attitude: A Community Issue?

Recently helped a community with a business planning session. Nothing unusual with that. Many of us have led or participated in countless sessions like this. What I found different about this session was the results.

Out topic was, “Building a Better Business Community” and we used a modified version of the Storyboarding planning method. Under the header “Obstacles” the group listed 70 items. The group then combined the ones that they felt were so close in meaning as to really be the same and they then voted in response to the question, “Which of these obstacles are most likely to stand in our way as we try to build a better business community.” I have them individually choose their top three and use a weighted voting system (3 points for their first choice, 2 points for second choice, etc.) and we then tallied the results.

The results showed two obstacles that rose head and shoulders above the rest. One was a contentious local issue that they had long faced. No surprise there. The second was “Resistance to Change”. Now attitudinal obstacles regularly show up in planning sessions like these but in my experience they rarely command center stage. I was even more surprised when I compiled the follow-up report and saw that over half of the 70 obstacles brought up during the initial brainstorming session dealt in one way or another with attitude.

I later discussed the results with an area economic development specialist who was familiar with the community. She said that a similar thing had happened as she helped a different community develop their comprehensive plan.

Ok, you’re probably saying, “So what?” Well here’s the deal. In my 20+ years of community development work the focus was almost always on physical things. And we responded. We build industrial parks, added infrastructure, spruced up the downtown facades, identified available buildings and provided job skill training. ‘Attitude’ was thought about but the focus was always on developing actions that resulted in something we could touch. Something we could see. 

And now we have community business leaders saying the lead obstacles they face are things we can’t see or touch but involve more of a sense of ‘feel’. Is this a real shift in priorities or is this an isolated incident? Have we made so much progress in addressing the physical obstacles that we now have time to give attitudinal ones some extra attention? Or have attitudinal issues increased to the point that they have pushed their way to the front and can no longer be ignored?

Whatever the case, dealing with these issues offers a whole new set of challenges. How do you benchmark attitude? How do you measure improvements? How do you incorporate a program for attitudinal change into your economic and community development efforts?

In comparison building an industrial park begins to look easy. And I never thought I’d ever say something like that. Will ‘Improving Attitude’ become the hot new community economic development issue?

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