January!! It’s the time for the thousands of years old tradition of making resolutions for the coming year. It’s the time of reflections and promises. And, for me, it’s the time to promise eating fewer chocolate chip cookies—oops, already broken—and for some, it’s a new determination to exercise or work at some self-improvement activity. But as the author Wes Moore put it, “resolutions are promises that sound hopeful in December, challenging in January and historic in February.”
As economic developers and leaders in the community, let’s consider taking seriously an idea of making “community resolutions.” Communities are always making resolutions throughout the year but we have come to call them strategic plans. As we know, many strategic plans go the way of many personal resolutions. Perhaps the only difference between the two is strategic plans are more public and get to sit on a shelf accumulating dust as opposed to the personal New Year’s resolutions that sit in your mind gathering guilt.
I think that it is time for economic developers to proclaim a set of community resolutions that will make a difference where each of us respectively live. And not the usual predictable resolutions that we find in strategic plans but regular achievable, simple and inexpensive activities that contribute to community improvement. I would like to start such a list by suggesting a Top 10 of specific changes in practitioners’ to-do routines that can lead to community sustainability.
- Promote your community every chance you get by updating your web page with local new, highlights and successes.
- Recognize the importance of the local library and identify it as a “third space” and an information sharing facility that can help existing businesses.
- Work to bring more local partners, public and private, into your economic development process.
- Educate your elected officials and your board that economic development is also about creating healthy sustainable communities, a task which takes time, and it is not just about creating immediate jobs.
- Participate in high school activities, such as a career day, to inform them that economic development is an important and valued profession in the community.
- Identify talent already in your community and work to retain them to continue to live and work there.
- Introduce entrepreneurship to high schools through ideation activities and business plan competitions.
- Encourage and support the creative arts and remind others through presentations and events that broad based participation in successful cultural activities is one of the primary drivers for people deciding to relocate their businesses to new towns or come visit and spend money.
- Improve the looks of your downtown with the simple things like flowers and benches and festivals and cultural celebrations. Most improvements are simple and inexpensive. A healthy downtown usually means a healthy community.
- Produce a list of regional assets, resources, events, and hidden gems and promote them internally and externally. Every business, household and web page should be a concierge desk for people interested in your community.
A recent study involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set personal New Year resolutions fail despite the fact that a whopping 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. If economic developers can keep and sustain their “community resolutions” I think they will stand a far better chance of beating the odds of keeping their personal resolutions. In fact, I am so confident I will bet you a chocolate chip cookie to that!