Cities across America have been vying for the privilege of hosting Amazon's $5 billion second headquarters, which is expected to bring with it up to 50,000 high-paying jobs.
Back in January the online retailer selected 20 finalists from a list of more than 200 cites that applied. And, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, cities that didn't make the short list—among them Detroit, Cincinnati, and Sacramento—are rushing to make changes based on Amazon's feedback on where they fell short.
Quint Studer says that while every city can't and shouldn't reinvent itself to please Amazon or any other corporate giant—by, say, rushing to expand their public transportation system—it is a good idea to seek feedback from potential investors who decided to pass.
"Most communities want to revitalize and grow, and that means courting private investment," notes Studer, author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America and founder of Pensacola, Florida's Studer Community Institute (SCI). "If you're one of them, chances are, eventually, you'll be turned down. It's always a good idea to find out why."
Of course, you don't have to listen and act on every criticism you hear, says Studer. Small and mid-size communities may not be right for a huge corporation like Amazon (and vice-versa). But requesting an earnest follow-up conversation with companies that pass on your community is a smart thing to do anyway.
"Over time, trends may emerge from these conversations," he says. "You can use the insights you gain to make deliberate and thoughtful decisions about what changes need to be made. In community development, as in most areas, the more feedback you have the better."
Don't assume every company is looking for a big city or a talent base with a lot of advanced degrees, says Studer. Every community has something to offer the right investor.
"Figuring out what you have to offer is both a science and an art," he says. "You need data and you need a compelling story built around the data. The key is to focus on what your community already has going for it. Build on those qualities and strengthen your culture and you'll find you're on the road to vibrancy. From there, you'll naturally attract the right investors."
Read on for 15 things leaders can do—besides asking for feedback from your own "Amazons"—to attract investors to the community:
"In healthy communities, shadow deals have to be disrupted," says Studer. "Force all aspects of the transaction into the light of day. Everyone needs to agree to the rules ahead of time, and procedures should be followed to the letter. If someone might benefit from a deal being produced, it needs to be disclosed."
"Universities are good for economic growth," says Studer. "They provide talent to local businesses and provide an opportunity for internships and scholarships. They can partner with companies to develop specific training programs. They also increase property values."
"In Pensacola, two of our small wins were opening the Bodacious Olive store and doing a big renovation on Jewelers Trade Shop," says Studer. "These really impressed the community and inspired other investors."
After you take these steps to attract investors, you will create a ripple effect that brings more investors and philanthropists to your community. In Pensacola, this happened when golf professional Bubba Watson and his wife, ex-WNBA player Angie Watson, saw the revitalization happening and wanted to be a part of it. They moved to Pensacola and invested in businesses: a baseball team, a candy store, apartments, an office building, and a car dealership.
"Once the investment gets rolling, the right people will be attracted, and these people will attract more of the right people, and this will result in more investment," concludes Studer. "It all works organically. Like ripples caused by a pebble tossed in a pond, growth keeps expanding and creating new momentum."
About the Author:
Quint Studer is author of Building a Vibrant Community and founder of Pensacola's Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community's quality of life and moving Escambia and Santa Rosa counties forward. He is a businessman, a visionary, an entrepreneur, and a mentor to many. He currently serves as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of West Florida. For more information, visit www.vibrantcommunityblueprint.com and www.studeri.org.
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