If you’re a regular visitor, you know I tell the stories of businesses, brands, people and cities for a living. Recently, I went to Mandan, ND to meet with the city staff and leadership and to see the city firsthand so I could tell their story to the retail marketplace and help them attract new retail and restaurants. Most of the people who heard of my trip in advance, or saw a tweet the day of, responded as if I were heading to the end of the known universe. And while some things were a little different 150 miles from Canada than they are here in Oklahoma (it was May 2nd and there was snow on the ground from a weekend blizzard, for one thing), the most important things from an economic development perspective were exactly the same.
Cities who want retail have to be strategic if they wish to accomplish the goals. And, as my colleague Rickey Hayes says, they must have a firm grip on reality. I think our project in Mandan will be successful, and here’s why:
- The city knows the truth about itself… they are grounded in a reality that includes their population, growth, proximity to other retail or cities, ability to offer incentives or enticements, and what land or environmental factors affect them. For good or ill, they are interested in the truth about what they have to offer, and who might be interested.
- City officials and leadership are committed to smart growth and to focusing on key areas rather than a shotgun approach to development. After a years-long and largely successful downtown revitalization effort, Mandan is ready to seek retail investment from further afield. Studies and surveys have been done in the past that helped shape completed projects and brought resident’s concerns and wishes to the forefront. Leaders in the community are anxious to move forward with retail recruiting efforts, but they want to remain true to the master plan and development goals for the city.
- Mandan is growing… our preliminary research into the demographics and drivers for the city is positive. They do have something to offer businesses who fit the opportunity gaps in their marketplace and the city wants to partner with the development community to make the process as simple and painless as possible. More importantly, they have taken steps (like contracting with me and with Retail Attractions) to prove it and share it.
- They understand their brand. Mandan, ND is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s OK. They promote what they have (which was impressive to see in person), and they work to further the business community’s understanding and first impressions of Mandan.
Cities who want to grow must think of themselves as brands and businesses and market accordingly. Slick, beautiful marketing brochures (the approach many of them take) are not the answer. Thoughtful attention to streamlining the development department and a reputation of being easy to work with goes further to close a deal. A city website full of solid, up to date, third-party verifiable economic development information on the market (demographics, property, characteristics, government or regulatory issues, retail or business environment, etc.) that is regularly updated, or even contains a *gasp* blog, goes further to attract interest. It sounds basic to many entrepreneurial businesses, and perhaps it is. But too often, cities don’t approach a marketing problem, or economic development marketing, from a business perspective. And they should.
When you think about your place, business or brand… are you grounded in reality? Are you committed to smart growth and to delivering exactly what your customers need? Is it easy to do business with you… no hoops, obstacles, or processes that might make people re-think their initial interest? And is your brand authentically YOU and do you deliver on what it promises?
I kept my list short… what would you add?