In This Issue
- Give Retailers a Reason to Freshen Window Displays
- Establish Community Tool Shed for Maintenance Programs
The TARGET (Technical Assistance for Regional Growth in Economic Development) program taps into a wealth of resources found within TEEX and The Texas A&M University System to help communities reach their economic development potential. Recently, TEEX launched three new projects.
An effective economic development initiative is made up of a number of individual components that collectively work together to create a masterful end result. This article takes a close look at two components that should have prominent positions within any economic development initiative, entrepreneurship and innovation.
Give Retailers a Reason to Freshen Window Displays
Window displays and signage are key to attracting shoppers to retail establishments – or keeping them away. Many retail store owners put up a window display and signs once and never think about it again. Before long, entire retail areas can look stale and uninviting, resulting in a loss of sales tax revenue. Consider establishing a quarterly contest for the best retail window displays and signage as an incentive for shop owners to clean up the displays. Give away free advertising to the best displays in town and everybody wins.
Establish Community Tool Shed for Maintenance Programs
Having the proper tools can make all the difference in the amount of time it takes to maintain even the simplest landscape, but the equipment can be pricey. As part of your clean-up and beautification program, consider establishing a community tool shed where residents and business owners can check out the right tools to maintain their landscape and keep your town looking clean and attractive. There are a number of grant programs out there that will help offset the costs. Be sure to include equipment maintenance in your project budget.
The Texas Engineering Extension Service Technology and Economic Development Division has received authorization from three communities to begin work on technical assistance projects. The Town of Van Horn accepted the TEEX proposal for a Road Improvements and Beautification Plan in support of Van Horn’s ongoing Economic Development Initiative. Hearne authorized an airport study and Fort Stockton has approved a Marketing Assessment and Web Presence. These projects and others are being performed as part of a TEEX grant program that provides technical assistance for rural and underserved communities. The grant program requires communities to pay approximately 30% of the actual cost of services rendered under the technical assistance program. Technical Assistance is offered in a broad range of areas and can generally be customized to meet the specific needs of a target community. To learn more about the program, contact Deborah Webb at Deborah.firstname.lastname@example.org.
In essence, local economic development can be compared to an orchestra. It’s made up of a number of uniquely different components that need to contribute their own “noise” but in concert (pardon the pun) with the other instruments in order to ensure a harmonious result. Is your economic development agency playing from the same page? Is there a sense of direction as to where all the efforts are heading? Is the agency playing the same old song?
The introductory comments were used to conjure up an image that we can all relate to. Imagine being in a concert hall and the orchestra is playing. What do you hear? Can you make out the distinct sounds emanating from the trumpet? Can you hear the beat of the drum? If the orchestra is any good, it’s actually difficult to separate the individual sounds. It blends into one melody that has caught your attention.
The same holds true for economic development. An effective initiative is made up of a number of individual components that collectively work together to create a masterful end result. Let’s take a deeper look at two components that should have prominent positions within the orchestra:
- Entrepreneurship and Innovation, with the realization that other attributes are also important including access to / partnering with education institutions, focus and uniqueness. Perhaps we can explore these latter three attributes in an upcoming article, as in combination, these five attributes should provide a distinct music that differentiates the community for which it stands, from the others.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Entrepreneurship and innovation are two terms that have become common buzzwords amongst the economic development community, and therefore their true meanings are sometimes watered down. Entrepreneurship is an activity that introduces new goods and services or introduces existing products and services to new markets. The novelty suggests that the new product or service will attract a new set of buyers for the goods and services, thereby ensuring the establishment of either new firms or the sustaining of existing businesses. The key word is “new”, ensuring that a community is in fact keeping up with and addressing the various trends that impact economic development.
However, by its nature, the products and services that originate from entrepreneurship are not always understood by the community at large. It may be difficult at times to convey the characteristics of a product or service, as often times, those who must approve zoning for example, don’t truly appreciate the nuances of the product/service. In fact, the judgment is often made through an existing lens. Consider, for example, the case of an entrepreneur who is looking to develop an upscale RV Park and vacation home development just outside a large urban community. The actual community where the development would take place is rural, and its municipal council has never considered a development of the nature or scale as envisioned by the entrepreneur. It’s different! In order to assess its merits, the council members and local constituents view the proposal with their existing lens, and see “trailer park” rather than “upscale vacation development”. And we don’t want a “trailer park” in our community! Therein lies one of the challenges of entrepreneurship - being the first to develop a new idea, or leading the way, is in fact difficult. However difficult though, it’s very important that economic development agencies actively work with entrepreneurs in their endeavors. Doing so requires keeping an open mind.
Innovation goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship. And we’re not talking about incremental improvements, which is the oft-cited understanding of innovation. Incremental improvements by and large allow a company to continue to interact with its existing clientele. The result is continued survival of the firm. ‘True’ innovation involves the introduction of products and/or services that are currently not in the marketplace.
Imagine for a minute that you’re in a classroom. The professor/instructor has written a message on the white board utilizing a standard black marker. And let's assume that the message is simply “Effective Economic Development”. Simple enough! Now visualize in your mind what this looks like – a white board and the prof’s message. When asked what we see on the board, most of us would suggest the three words – ‘Effective Economic Development’. The reality is that those three words occupy less than 1% of the white board, but we’re trained to see the obvious – we don’t necessarily see the 99% white space.
Disruptive innovation is based on seeing what no one else sees. It seeks market opportunities in those niches that are overlooked by most others. It’s disruptive in the sense that it has the capacity to overturn the common way of doing things. For example, Internet retailing is disruptive against store retailing. The I-Pod is disruptive to CD sales. The new format initially caters to a very small minority – a niche that has been overlooked by existing players.
The opportunity for disruptive innovation essentially occurs when an entrepreneur, a business, a community, or an organization realizes that there are unmet needs in the marketplace. If we refer back to our example of the white board, these are the folks who have seen the unobvious and turn that into a market opportunity that has exponential room for growth.
Let’s take health care as an example. The current situation of long waits, expensive procedures and crippling regulations has put a crimp on the health care system. In response, some entrepreneurs are establishing services related to medical tourism (travel out of the country for medical procedures), alternative medicines (preventative health care), and/or simpler access to diagnostics, whether it be over the counter tests, or medical services in a retail mall. One entrepreneurial tourism venture in Europe has partnered with local hospitals to provide a wide variety of health care services on site – in various RV/vacation home parks. The effort is in part in response to the need for a domestic alternative to medical tourism but it also supports economic growth.
Economic development agencies have just as much opportunity as the entrepreneur does to capitalize on disruptive innovation. It requires viewing trends and market opportunities through a different lens – one that is not tied to past traditions and ways of conducting business. It means embracing a fresh perspective – one that actively seeks out ways and means to differentiate themselves, and therefore their community, from the others and striving to base the economic development agenda on fresh perspectives. This novel approach will certainly allow that community’s brand to stand out amongst the others, effectively drawing the attention of new business operations.
Entrepreneurship and innovation are therefore the key components of an economic development strategy. When played in harmony, they should be music to many an ear.
About the Author: Ed Brooker operates The Foresight Management Group, an independent consulting firm specializing in the planning and management of commercial outdoor recreation enterprises. He is a member of the City of Kitchener Economic Development Advisory Committee, and the Executive Advisory Board for AdventGX, a tourism and economic development consulting firm. Ed is pursuing a doctorate degree from the Rotterdam School of Management, with a focus on the role of disruptive innovation amongst SMTEs (Small to Medium Sized Tourism Enterprises). Further information may be found at the company’s website – www.foresight-management.com.