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Attracting Business Investment to Olathe

I recently read this article and couldn't stop thinking about it (especially love the dashboard idea). Sure it's a few years old, but the advice contained within is so valuable. Here are the 15 things we can do to attract investors to Olathe as prescribed by the author, By Brent Driggers:

"Read on for 15 things leaders can do—besides asking for feedback from your own “Amazons”—to attract investors to the community:

  • Have a dashboard. Create a dashboard showing critical, objective metrics, update it regularly, and keep it in front of citizens, businesses, and investors. It will provide concise information about relevant factors like economic performance, well-being of the population, high school graduation rates, and where entrepreneurs are located. (It’s a lot like how the dashboard of a car shows gas, oil, engine performance, temperature, etc.) These metrics will be what attracts investment. They’ll also keep citizens and decision makers mindful of where improvements are needed. So, pay close attention to what is being reported and how it is being presented.

  • Use it to create a compelling story. Does the community have a high graduation rate? Are there a lot of Millennials? These are the kinds of data points that can be used to showcase a community’s advantages. And don’t forget about the other factors that don’t show up on a dashboard. Is there a downtown? A great university? Is the community known for its art and culture? Is the cost of living affordable?

  • Know your community’s culture. How is the city or community described by people on the outside looking in? How do residents feel about themselves? Figure out how, to sum up this culture and create an “elevator speech” around it. Repeat this message again and again. Talk to people about “managing up” the community to everyone they meet. Managing the messaging around culture is an important part of showcasing a community to investors.

  • Figure out your unique selling point. “When trying to attract businesses to your community, make sure you’re not focusing on the wrong selling point,” advises Studer. “Janesville, Wisconsin, had a billboard advertising their ‘shovel-ready’ land. But almost any town can say that nowadays. Meanwhile, Janesville was overlooking their school system’s astounding 93 percent high school graduation rate. I told them, ‘If I were you guys, I’d change my billboards to say Janesville is a talent-ready community.'”

  • Keep young talent from leaving. Businesses want to invest in cities with a young workforce. Studer says this is why it’s so important to create a vibrant downtown. Young people want to be able to work, live, and play in the same location. They like lots of great restaurants, a dynamic nightlife, and cool places to live.

  • Elect and appoint leaders who put the community first. They should be willing to listen to new ideas and make it easy and comfortable for people to do business there. That means ensuring all guidelines, codes, and zoning rules make sense and are clearly spelled out and enforced. Further, leaders should be easily accessible and available to answer questions to assure that decisions about planning and developing are made quickly and efficiently and in the right order.

  • Commit to a “zero tolerance” policy for shadow deals. A shadow deal is a business transaction in which everybody doesn’t have a fair chance to participate or one in which motivations are hidden. An example might be a public official who is really pushing for a project because his friend owns a company that would garner work from it. The hidden motivation makes it a shadow deal.

  • Make workforce development a priority. Do everything possible to offer training and support for the business community. When trying to attract new business to the city, it’s important to provide some resources around workforce development. Getting a new business started is one thing. Sustaining it is quite another. Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute offers training and development sessions and small business roundtables for owners.

  • If at all possible, establish or grow a university presence in the community. This is a big part of creating an educated population, which tends to be important to investors. Even if there isn’t currently a university in town, you can still partner with other colleges to create a local branch, so students can seek higher education closer to home.

  • Focus on culture. Show business that your community or city can do more to help them make a profit. Create a culture that they want to be a part of. (This also attracts talent.) Cultivating a collaborative, creative, appealing, and genuinely thriving community fuels hope and optimism.

  • Find ways to help start-ups get access to capital. Studer says Asheville, NC, does a great job with investing in small businesses and start-ups. They have Mountain BizWorks, a one-stop shop for small businesses looking to grow their existing business or create start-ups in the area. Their “lending and learning” model matches qualifying candidates with the resources they need to make their ventures successful. One way they help entrepreneurs is by creating leases that move up and down based on revenue. (Studer used this model to help Cecil Johnson open the Five Sisters Blues Café in Pensacola’s historic black district.)

  • Focus on local growth and reinvestment, too. “Not all investment is outside investment,” says Studer. “Pay attention to the companies that are already doing well in the community and keep them there. Don’t always be recruiting the new. It’s easier to join a winning team. Especially nurture those companies that get revenue from outside the community. Ask what their needs are and do everything possible to meet them.”

  • Get some wealth off the sidelines. Community philanthropy is a really important source of investment. This is all about mobilizing capital with the goal of improving citizens’ lives. Seek out possible sources of benevolent wealth and approach them about investing in the community. These early investors provide cover for those investors who follow later. It’s true that they might make more money other places, but there are other forms of ROI. The satisfaction of helping to build a vibrant community is its own reward.

  • Build and showcase some small wins. Investment follows investment. Success breeds success, just like failure breeds failure. Capitalizing on some early small wins will help get local private investors interested.

  • Diversify, diversify, diversify. It’s easy to have a little success in one area and then focus on that area too much. Healthy economies are based on more than just tourism or just manufacturing or just banking. They need diversity to thrive. So enjoy the successes, but don’t get too complacent and keep trying to replicate the same types of businesses over and over."


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