I always learn something each time I have the opportunity to visit with colleagues from other communities. Many of us have similar issues, and it is helpful to hear what has worked or not worked for others in similar positions.
There was one community story I found particularly interesting recently because it had to do with a smaller community that was dealing with a few longtime business anchors closing and the degeneration of its once prominent downtown area.
Once the leadership acknowledged there was a problem, they took action. They called a town hall meeting and had about 50 to 75 residents show up and offer their opinions and suggestions on how to save their local businesses and how to help them to not only survive, but flourish.
During that meeting they formed a 15-member committee that was tasked with developing a plan to breathe life into the downtown district. One part of their plan I think is absolutely essential was that this committee included concerned citizens, business owners and government officials to ensure more than one group was heard.
They went on to start a campaign to raise awareness of their downtown district so they held a social event downtown. Then, despite the skepticism of some local business owners, they held a Halloween event downtown, and businesses stayed opened late and handed out candy to families and trick-or-treaters. They had over 1,000 people attend that event, and that sparked interest. That created enthusiasm, community pride and momentum.
They followed that up with an effort to gain media exposure to talk about opportunities, to talk about resources.
Shortly thereafter, new projects were started. Soon, almost all the businesses downtown were taking part in some type of project. The new Main Street in that town hosts music festivals, there are apartments, townhouses and duplexes in the area. These are attractive housing options for the younger population ensuring their best and brightest don’t have to leave the area to find the community assets they desire and ensuring a capable workforce in the area.
The short-term benefits of their program and the excitement and optimism it sparked included a 20 percent increase in business revenues and 11 new businesses opening in the downtown area in two years.
At first, their project was met with skepticism and resistance, but there always comes a tipping point when enough people say, ‘This isn’t working. Let’s fix this.’ How do you know when your community is at that tipping point? Personally, I think if you’re asking that question then you’re there.
Could some young chamber of commerce or economic development leader be writing this same column about Port Lavaca in a year? I like to think so. Why not us?