Seize your opportunity during coronavirus crisis
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Building Main Street, Not Wall Street

Seize your opportunity during coronavirus crisis

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John Newby

Every now and again, I just have to share a potential idea; this column is one of those times. It is during times of crisis that some of the greatest innovations, inventions, movements and opportunities present themselves. Could the current Covid-19 crisis present what might be a defining moment for your community?

What the current crisis has taught us is that change is coming whether we are prepared for it or not. While we may not yet know the extent of each of these changes, we do know it will alter the landscape of our business community. Some businesses will adapt and flourish, others will fail to adapt and be lost. Every locally owned and operated business closing their doors in your community is a small piece of your local identity that is lost forever.

Communities embracing the coming changes will have a unique opportunity that this current crisis presents. What is that opportunity you ask? The opportunity is turning your community into an innovation or entrepreneur hotspot, while at the same time, building a completely new revenue stream for the city.

The process really isn’t difficult, nor does it cost much. Most small or midsized communities have vacant or under used buildings and/or office space. The community should take one of these vacant buildings and devote the space to a local “Innovation Center”. This new facility would assist local entrepreneurs, both young and old, build their dreams. The city should even agree to cover the expenses of the utilities, waive the real estate taxes and even offer some basic maintenance. These items would cost the city very little in actual real dollars.

Once this space is ready, the city should work with a local internet and phone provider to provide no or low cost high-speed wireless internet and phone service. This is one area where you can’t cut corners, technology minded entrepreneurs with great ideas need access to the entire world, not just your community. Unlike years past, the opportunity to tap into specialized expertise is no longer just a local requirement. As Covid-19 has shown, with millions now working from home, the world is now your playground, take advantage of this.

Work with local organizations such as the Chamber, Main Street organization and media companies to build a network of retired professionals. Every community has a host of successful business professionals, accountants, lawyers, entrepreneurs and others willing to assist and mentor young and aggressive business owners.

If you want the project to really gather steam fast, work with the local schools, either high schools or colleges, or both, offering scholarship opportunities for students. Have some fun with it as well. Create a ‘Shark Tank’ type contest for local students and other innovators within the community where they pitch their ideas to a local team made up of some of the brightest business minds in the area. Work with local government, residents, foundations and philanthropists to create a pool of funds to assist the start-ups in addition to the Innovation Center.

What is in it for the community? The community can hold an equity stake in any of the new businesses spun off from this project. The community’s percentage or equity stake can be based on the business’s local presence, the number of local hires and other parameters that might make sense.

This is a project any community can embark on without major expenses. It is a project that sends a message to those in the community that you are open for business. Projects of this nature help retain those younger entrepreneurs that might normally leave for what they perceive as greener pastures on the other side of the fence.

Now is NOT the time for communities to wait for the economic game to come to you; it may never come. Now is the time to take calculated (and low cost) chances on your residents. Who knows, we have a whole new generation of up and coming entrepreneurs, many in our communities that thirst for opportunities. Instill the opportunity in these local entrepreneurs which in turn will create new jobs and revenue opportunities for the community. Who knows, your community might be the home of the next Uber, Facebook, Groupon and the list goes on. By doing nothing, the outcome is already given; by being bold, the sky is the limit - Be bold!

John A. Newby, author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street " national column dedicated to helping communities and local media companies combine synergies that allow them to not just survive, but thrive in a world where truly local is lost to Amazon, Wall Street chains and others. His email at: john@360MediaAlliance.net.

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