Nia Peeples once said, “Life is a moving, breathing thing. We have to be willing to constantly evolve. Perfection is in fact, constant transformation.”
When it comes to local communities, local media and local businesses, this quote has never been more true than today. I usually tend to view and write at a 30,000-foot level in a way applicable to nearly any community. Today I am going to provide three specific or granular ideas local communities can implement with little cost and positive results: economic gardening, food halls and micro-TIFs.
Economic Gardening is a relatively new term used in the community revitalization and transformation world. Put very simply, it is utilizing one’s own community resources, both physical and financial to nurture and grow their own local business base. Far too often communities get carried away courting National chains and big-boxes to town. While these might appear to be short-term fixes, they can be quite costly to lure to your community and the long-term cost to the community can actually turn negative quickly.
The downside risks are plenty. While they usually do hire locals to operate the business, all profits leave your community forever. They are also at the whim of their Wall Street corporate bosses and can close on a minute’s notice. This wasn’t a huge deal a few years ago, but in today’s age of COVID, this is becoming very common. This usually requires infrastructure expenses paid by the community and these costs can be ongoing and substantial.
Using a steak house as an example, I have seen communities spend hundreds of thousands of tax-payer dollars to lure and secure a National steakhouse chain. Compare this with a community nurturing, supporting and even financing local entrepreneurs willing to open a local steakhouse. They can do it with a local look and feel equally as enticing, utilizing local beef, using local produce, and also hiring local employees. Additionally, all their profits stay local and recirculate throughout the local economy 3-7X compared to 1X for the National chain.
Food Halls are among the newest rages in large parts of the country, even more so during the age of COVID and the associated attacks on local restaurants and eateries. Essentially, they have taken old or unused buildings in their downtown or in the heart of the community and created what amounts to a localized food court complete with indoor dining, entertainment and many various types of foods. The key to the success of these foods courts is a result of two things. First, they have an attractive and vibrant atmosphere that is warm and inviting. In the age of COVID, it even works with the proper distancing allowed to take place. Secondly, they provide many types of food and beverage choices. This allows for food vendors who otherwise may not be able to afford to maintain their isolated and one-off location, to provide their various foods in a group setting that attracts hundreds throughout any given day in lieu of a just a few.
Micro-TIFs are a spin-off of the typical TIF — Tax Increment Financing — program many communities already take advantage of. Regular TIF programs have been around for decades, contributing to growth across thousands of communities. Micro-TIF’s are exactly what it sounds like. The difference is communities can create a Micro-TIF district covering only one block or even just one street on one block, depending on the laws in your state. TIF’s are outstanding ways to get funds into the hands of land or building owners in key parts of your community. This will assist them in revitalizing or transforming their property or building into what can make a huge difference for the community.
It is no secret that America was built on the backs of small communities and small businesses. Small business has always been the road map to sustainable community success. These are only three ideas. Communities using these or the dozens of other ideas we see every day can overcome the obstacles before them. Time is short and certainly of the essence. Communities need to unite and stand together, or they will be divided and most assuredly die.
John A. Newby is author of the “Building Main Street, Not Wall Street;” contact him at [email protected].