How Making Locally Owned Small Businesses Successful Contributes to a Regional Flavor Strategy

by Joanne Steele on November 24, 2009

Yesterday I introduced the five principles identified as key to the development of a rural community’s small town Regional Flavor Strategy by the Association for Enterprise Opportunity.

Today we will look more closely at Principle #1:

“Help each locally owned business or organization to be world class, unique and continually innovative.”

The ultimate reason for having a Regional Flavor Strategy is to build and sustain a strong, successful locally owned tourism business community. These locally owned businesses provide the linkages and the purpose for being a Regional Flavor destination.

I have seen too many small towns start by focusing on recreation and attractions assets. They look around at all the magnificent things that visitors can do in their area and excitedly create brochures, DVD’s, web sites and kiosks. People flock to the area, but most of the benefit goes to the nearby communities with more visitor services.

This is the situation in Tulelake, California. Tulelake is the gateway city to the Lava Beds National  Monument, the Tulelake National Wildlife Area, and the new WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Tule Lake Unit. The route for the Volcanic Legacy All American Road goes right through town.  Yet there are more empty storefronts than businesses, and the few local businesses are struggling.

Residents of Tulelake have produced beautiful materials showcasing their location and assets. But when the 10’s of thousands of visitors come to these wonderful attractions, they usually stay in nearby Klamath Falls, OR because Tulelake has limited lodging and dining, one grocery store and one gas station.

This story is repeated around nearly every National Park in the United States.

How can a community like Tulelake use Principle #1 to create a Regional Flavor Strategy?

By focusing their attention on improving and marketing their existing business assets.

A community redevelopment project designed to help the existing grocery store, B&B, old time drive-in and restaurant showcase their unique regional flavor would start the transformation of the whole town.

Gateway cities and rural communities near well-known recreational destinations are lucky. They have a market already coming into their region. Internet links and low tech options like strategically placed brochures can bring people into town at a very low cost if that community has charming, unique businesses waiting to serve these visitors.

How can Strategy #1 help a small town in a truly rural setting?

This summer during my travels, I spent a day in Weiser, Idaho, USA. This thriving little community is in the middle of Idaho farm country. They are known worldwide as the home of the National Old Time Fiddle Contest, held once a year in June.

Their downtown is a bustling center for locally owned businesses.

Their region includes 5 other communities, and besides the big fiddle contest, their visitors generally come from these surrounding communities. These 6 towns support each other and together have created a Regional Farm Country Flavor that brings fiddlers back year after year. The come in June, and many come back at other times because they love Weiser.

Branson, Missouri and Nashville, Tennessee would both love to steal that fiddle contest, but the fiddlers themselves demand that it stay in Weiser. It’s the Regional Flavor and the strong unique locally owned business community that protects Weiser’s claim to the National Old Time Fiddle Contest.

So, if your town is near a major highway, or a national park, or a recreation destination, or close by an urban center or other small towns, focus on your local businesses.

1. Shop locally.

2. If you’re in the United States, look at ways your town might use CDBG or EDBG funds to help businesses innovate, redecorate, or expand their effective online marketing. In India, your government is pumping money into rural destinations, and Scotland is working hard to bring broadband to all rural areas. Get involved in these grant opportunities wherever you live.

3. As a business owner, link you web site to every other small business in your town to increase your visibility online, increase your online traffic and get your town front and center on the information superhighway.

4. Sweep your sidewalks and wash your windows, and if the business next to you is vacant, sweep their sidewalk and wash their windows.

5. Innovate, innovate, innovate. As a business owner, always be thinking of ways to uniquely express your business vision and objectives. Do it on the Internet, with paint, with services.

6. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Strategy #1 is just the beginning. A single business can be the catalyst for a whole Regional Flavor Strategy, but it’s very hard to be a Regional Flavor Destination all alone.

Tomorrow, it’s strategy #2.

1 Janet November 24, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Thank you for writing these stories. Your ideas and suggestions are spot on for rural Utah.

This article especially nails the issue of gateway communities failing to capitalize on national park-bound tourists.

I’m consulting for a new, rural business association in Wayne County and I think your articles would help our business owners.

I want to ask our Board of Directors for permission first, but with their approval and yours, could we post a link on our website to your articles?

Thanks for considering this reqeust.

2 Joanne Steele November 25, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Thank so much for your kind comments, Janet. Please link, and feel free to print out and distribute any of the articles that would help your community.

If any of your businesses have further questions, ask them to leave the question as a comment and I’ll be happy to contact them personally or online with an answer.

I’ll be continuing this series for the next two weeks.

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