The New Economic Development

June 9, 2022



Times aren’t a-changing, they already have. I hope your city didn’t miss it. If you still have a chamber, tourism bureau and economic development department- it’s time for a glow-up. Sorry. 

It’s okay if we talk about it. Those offices and institutions had their time in the sun. They had their chance. Honestly, they did a really good job for a really long time, it’s not their fault. Things change. People change. The economy changes. Our cities have to be willing to do the same. 

We aren’t making the progress we need because we aren’t willing to talk about hard things. Maybe not hard, maybe ‘uncomfortable’ is the better word. We are rightfully concerned about hurting people’s feelings, but that can’t be the enemy of progress. Because when we let the masses suffer to protect the feelings of a few, are we really doing anyone a favor? 

I don’t have a specific axe to grind with those institutions or individuals, they are plugging away and doing their best, but many of their missions are no longer relevant. Those organizations don’t have to disappear, but they need to be willing to change. Doing the wrong thing more efficiently won’t fix a damn thing. 

It’s just not about jobs and visitors anymore. It’s about residents. It’s about beauty, and emotions and attachment. Some of these organizations get this, but far too few have failed to recognize they are operating in a wildly different environment from when they started.

Tomorrow’s economic development is about aesthetics. People make choices based on beauty. They decide where they want to eat based on what the place looks like and then they decide on what they want to eat based on what the dish looks. They decide where they want to visit based on how pretty it is, then decide on where to stay based on how nice the hotel looks. They decide where they want to rent or buy by the aesthetics of the neighborhood and a pretty house will always command a higher purchase price than an ugly house. Everyone knows this…well, most know this. 

Every company understands that in order to make a sale, they have to appeal to a person’s emotions. They have to develop a product that people can feel a connection to, something that elevates them and the way they feel about themselves. A product that is beautiful or sexy and makes them feel more self-confident. Why don’t cities understand this? Nothing can boost a person’s self-esteem like the place they call home. If just visiting a place changes how you feel, moving somewhere new can transform a person. 

Cities are too focused on cost, but forget to consider value- huge mistake. Cost is only one factor in the decision making process. Consumers consider value in their decisions. What does a thing look like, how does it make me feel, what does it represent? An Audi still just moves people from one place to another, but people pay a premium for these cares. Whole Foods still just sells stuff to eat, but people pay a premium to shop there. 

Cities must consider what people value. Existing residents can leave for greener pastures and if your city isn’t providing them with value, they should. Does your city make them proud? Does it make them feel good when they walk the streets? Can they show their city off to their friends from out of town on Insta? Can they take pretty pics downtown and show off all the cool places to eat and drink? Does it provide them with fun places to walk and funky public places to hang out? If the answer is no, your city and all of those institutions are failing the people that call it home.

Aesthetics are the new economic development. Pretty matters. It means everything because function follows form. Humans gravitate towards beauty and do what they can to surround themselves with it. The single simplest way to make your city desirable is to make it pretty. Who doesn’t like cute, who doesn’t want to live somewhere lovely? 

Those organizations mentioned above don’t have to evaporate, but if they aren’t willing to look at what works and change their mission, what’s the point? What good are they if they are more entrenched in doing what they’ve always done instead of doing what should be done. Step outside your Robert Rules of Order sometime and ask yourself, your co-workers, your fellow board members- what does our community need? What does it want? What would benefit our town? I want a Chamber of Cute and the Bureau of Enjoyment. An office of Holy Shit This Town Makes Me Feel Great About Myself. This would be money well spent. 

It’s really not all that hard. Municipal government and the organizations that are charged with making the community better, need to do better. They need to take a good long hard look at their mission, their man-hours and their initiatives and have a frank discussion about whether or not they are moving the needle. Because it’s a damn shame to see so many precious resources go towards luring in outsiders when the people and businesses that are already in town get no love. 

Come on guys, honestly, get it together. You’ve had plenty of time to come to grips with reality. At some point it’s willful ignorance not to see how the field has changed and not adapt. Do you wonder on an annual basis why you don’t seem relevant? It’s because you aren’t. Do you wonder why membership is so hard these days? Because no one values what you do? Does it seem really hard to make your case? Because it’s a hard case to make. These should all be signs. Signals that something is wrong and that change might be necessary. 

Want to be a hero? Want to be a champion and have easy membership and love throughout the community? Put residents first. Give them what they crave. More importantly, give them what they deserve. Give them beauty. Deliver them unto cute. Make the place you all call home the best place to live ever. Because if you just made residents’ lives better, if you just give them quality surroundings and a little fun, maybe a little whimsy, they would melt. 

They just want nice things. They just want to take a stroll without being mowed down by a car. They just want their kids to have safe spaces to play. They just want to have some friends on the block that they can hangout with. They just want a cool coffee shop or bar to visit when they have some free time. They just want to live in a place that makes them proud. Really, is that too much to ask? 


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