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Do Community Initiatives Need an Ending?

October 6, 2013 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Sometimes it’s okay to let a community effort die.

How many times do we go to community-based meetings because we think we have to? We try to keep a brave face but in the end, if they do not satisfy some interest whether it is personal or business, we will eventually lose interest.

New is Exciting We start most community efforts with such fanfare, energy and high expectations. Many are successful and continue on. Many though, fade away.

I often wondered why community efforts are not looked at more as a business. After all, the objectives are the same: addressing some type of need.

If a business is not meeting some type of demand it won’t be around for long. And sometimes, to survive we need to change what we offer to meet new demands. We then need to calculate if we are the right business to meet that new demand.

Sometimes a community effort gets started on a single purpose: building a community facility or responding to aid. Often though it may be more comprehensive like “revitalizing downtown,” creating jobs for the region or marketing the area.

It’s Complicated

The more comprehensive the agenda, the more difficult it seems, to hold it together over a sustained period of time. Goals are not as simple or straightforward. It may take a period of time to develop a strategy, resources may be required and a diversity of interests is involved.

Isn’t it exciting when a large group of people show up for a community meeting on a particular topic or need?

Isn’t it just as vexing though, to figure out how to take this interest and harness it into something that will do - something?

A Community Business?

What if we took the attitude that these community initiatives were actual businesses we were starting? They had a beginning, measurables and an exit strategy.

Would our agenda be a bit different?

1. There appears to be a need 2. We have researched this need 3. This is a strategy to meet this need 4. These are the products/services 5. How we operate 6. Our financial investment 7. How we evaluate 8. The End Date

That's right - at the first meeting, announcing an end date.

We celebrate the beginning of something, why don’t we celebrate the end? Why isn’t it okay to say: “We came together to meet this need. We addressed it and now it is time to move on”?

Perhaps it is easier to create community initiatives rather than ceremoniously end them.

So it is perhaps with the Tourism Council, and I was one of those community folk involved in helping to create it…

As a business person though, it may be time to say “Adieu!”

As an economic developer, I see community needs that may have changed.

The Need

The tourism council was formed because of this political boundary mess we call the Tri-lakes. Its initial focus was the Saranac Lake area with the long range goal of fostering a greater tourism dialogue among the region.

There were also new opportunities with Franklin County’s pursuit of an occupancy tax and ROOST’s interest in picking up the tourism promotion void for the Saranac Lake area as the chamber re-positioned itself.

So the idea was to create a tourism “round-table” to bring all of our tourism and municipal partners together. The “needs” appeared to be:

• Greater coordination among local and county efforts

• Addressing the tourism promotion void in the Saranac Lake area

• Marketing local events

• Packaging and co-op marketing between businesses.

The Strategy

A strategy was devised to meet these needs:

• Representatives agreed to meet on a regular basis to enhance communication and coordination

• A contract with ROOST was developed and implemented for the Saranac Lake area. This included obtaining local funding and in return agreeing on “products and services,” how it will operate and evaluating performance to determine a “rate of return.”

• The council met with local event organizers, began to consolidate calendars and developed a marketing moniker for the Saranac Lake area as the “Adirondacks coolest place.”

• The council ensured there was a voice on the proposed Franklin County occupancy tax.

• Outreach began with other Tri-lake communities such as North Elba and Tupper Lake.

• A “need” was expressed for additional tourism amenities.

The Results

So, for the current time, most of these needs are being addressed.

Is it time then to end the Tourism Council?

ROOST’s program is underway, Franklin County has created a Tourism Advisory Committee and 2 significant tourism projects are being planned.

New Needs?

If the tourism council is to continue, does it need a new tourism mission? Does it need to address other potential tourism needs in the area? For example:

• Are there ways for Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake to work together on tourism instead of competing for county dollars? Should we band together to suggest to the county there should be an “Adirondack program”?

• More than ever our visitors are looking for diverse experiences necessitating the need for collaboration and packages among our businesses. Should the council help facilitate this?

• Entrepreneur magazine reports this month that “marketing automation” is a growing trend. In other words, more of marketing is going high tech. This is a technology that “allows companies to streamline, automate and measure marketing tasks…” How we help our small businesses to play in this arena may be an increasing need.

These may be some of the new needs. To have meetings to hear old news and reports may not cut it in the long run.

Celebrate an End?

It may be time to have a celebration and say “job well done” and get out of the way. Or, the Council may need to decide on if it is the right vehicle to address new needs. To do so means it will need a new “business plan,” and potentially new members.

Perhaps though, it can also be a new community model that has a beginning and a celebratory end.


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