What’s your sign? No, not your astrological sign, the sign, rather, that greets you as you enter your community. Mine says, “Welcome to the Friendly City.” Others I’ve seen celebrated some favorite son or daughter — “Childhood Home of...” Still others note a famed successful season of a sports team, “State Champs 1976.”
These signs often signal what residents are proud of. My career has taken me to a great many communities, and many times I’ve asked groups of locals what makes the place they call home unique? What separates their community from most others? What gives people a reason to come there to live or do business? What keeps people there instead of moving away?
About 80 percent of the time I’ve received remarkably similar answers, something along the lines of, “It’s a great place to raise a family.” Even when I inquire about a community’s greatest economic development “asset” that’s often the answer I get. Mayors and regular folks alike seem convinced that businesses should be lining up to invest in their communities and that people would be hard pressed to find a better place to put down roots. When that’s not the case, they are certain it’s because they must be their region’s “best-kept secret.”
There’s a bit of a problem when so many communities point to their quality of life as what makes them unique and special. If everyplace is unique and special, then no place is unique and special.
Don’t get me wrong; there is much good in having a self-confident community. It leads to all sorts of social benefits. There is also, however, great value in communities understanding their truly unique assets because every community is in competition with many others. Every time businesses take a look at them for its next expansion. When residents consider job offers that would take them away. When soon-to-graduate college students decide whether to move back home or seek their fortunes elsewhere.