Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) has partnered with the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) and teams of volunteer professionals to conduct technical assistance visits to communities across the state since 2005. Large and small, suburban and rural, resort or college town, we see the same five issues surfacing time and again. Do any of these issues sound familiar to you?
- Communications: Miscommunication or a lack of communications between the local government and business, residents, and other entities (e.g., libraries, museums, hospitals).
- Downtown Management: Difficulty accessing local resources to synchronize initiatives for maximum impact.
- Mobility: How to link resources/attractions for an enhanced pedestrian environment with coordinated signage, parking, and way-finding.
- Business Retention, Expansion, and Attraction: Developing an ongoing business support program to serve as ambassadors to link businesses to training, information, and assistance.
- Financing: Identifying mechanisms for generating funds to focus on downtown whether locally generated through a business improvement district or downtown development authority, or identifying sources for grants and other externally generated support.
In this fourth installment of our five-part series, we address specific business retention and attraction areas to examine, as well as actual recommendations from recent technical assistance visits.
Business Retention, Expansion, and Attraction
In this economy perhaps more than ever, it is essential to focus on business retention and attraction strategies. We are seeing so many local businesses across the state that are forced to close their doors after many years in business. We like to say that those empty storefront windows are the equivalent of missing teeth in your smile.
A shuttered business does not just impact that business, but is also detrimental to all the businesses around it. Similarly, the more thriving businesses you have in your downtown, the more people that will be attracted to your downtown—investors, new businesses, and patrons alike.
Yet, our communities run into the same problems repeatedly: how do you attract successful businesses to your community and how do you keep them there?
Some things to consider:
- Are you supporting your local businesses and merchants? Help your businesses to help themselves by providing a guide to local resources for both new and current business owners. Include resources for training and development programs (don’t forget your regional Colorado Small Business Development Center office!) and local guidelines and contact info. For inspiration, check out the “Doing Business in Granby” guide or Boulder’s Marketing Solutions for Downtown Businesses.
- Does your town give the impression that it is a business-friendly community? Do you have a cohesive marketing package for current and potential businesses? You cannot expect potential businesses owners to be attracted to your town if you are not proactively marketing to them.
- Is there a way for visitors and residents alike to easily find out which services and goods are available in town? We have heard in many focus groups that residents didn’t even know a product or service was available in town, so they were buying it in the next town! A simple directory, whether online or printed, can help direct traffic to your local businesses.
- Have you considered conducting a market analysis? Sure, a marketing analysis can be expensive, but even a simple survey where merchants ask their customers for a zip code can help the community gain important insight into customer base.
Below are some actual business retention and attraction recommendations from recent DCI/DOLA technical assistance visits:
- Inventory products and services available in town and create material to highlight them. Your community provides a variety of services to the community and there is no single source that promotes this effort. Partners, like the local community bank, for example, have resources available that could create an online “Marketplace” or business directory. This tool would allow the community, visitors, and potential new residents the ability to see what is available in town and produce incentives (coupons, event notices) that would increase traffic to the website and to local businesses.
- Conduct a vacant downtown property inventory and post it on the town website. As time and resources allow, expand site inventory to be more informative with additional zoning information, dimensions, description of surface conditions, description of utilities, and parking requirements. The town has many vacant parcels that have significant influence in enhancing or detracting from the town’s character. Utilizing existing property data, a database of available properties should be made available online in order to promote business interests in the Town. Providing this information, in addition to a comprehensive market analysis, will allow potential business owners with the information needed to make better decisions on where to locate their interests in the town.
- Conduct various market assessments that will provide data that will allow decision-makers, developers and business interests to make better informed decisions. In order for investment to continue and grow, market assessments are needed to provide the necessary data to make decisions, both from the town’s position as well as the developer. From home health to open spaces to transportation needs, analyzing what is in place and what may be needed is vital to spur economic growth. Initially, some steps can be made with minimal investment. For example, town businesses could ask patrons for their residential zip code. This would enable the business community to target where customers are located and where advertising dollars should be spent.
Technical Assistance Visits
We hope these questions and recommendations will get you thinking from a new perspective about approaching downtown management strategies for your community. For a detailed technical assistance visit that will address all of the specific issues your community is facing as well as provide an action plan to tackle them, visit our technical assistance information at www.downtowncoloradoinc.org to download an application or call DCI today at 303.282.0625.
Heather Garbo is the Director of Communications & Development at Downtown Colorado, Inc.