(original post date 09/30/11)
In our previous post we told you that Forney, TX was the city we chose to open our first Tasting Pavilion.
We also mentioned that we chose Forney because they not only fit our mission of working with local providers, being as green as possible and assuring we were a responsible corporate citizen, but also because Forney seemed different, a city that had a clear vision of what it wanted to be and a leadership committed to fulfill that vision.
But, having a vision and the will to drive that vision are only part of the story. Because they are bureaucratic by nature, so many towns get bogged down in the details that end up killing the very vision they are promoting.
Many a small business owner has watched in dismay as their hard work and plans have fallen to turf wars and ownership issues of small town governments.
Deal killers arise along every step of the process. Government doesn’t have to be big government to kill a small business. The tunnel vision of many small town departments clashes with the “how do we make it work” attitude of most small business owners.
Planning and zoning departments that won’t budge on zoning issues, building inspectors not interested in acceptable work-around’s, by-the-book adherence to the “rules”, are all issues that small business owners must overcome.
Our own experience working with other cities in the Dallas area provides an example of what small business owners must deal with.
As we mentioned in our previous post, because of its size and population base, it was only logical that The City of Dallas was tops on our list for our first Crumbzz Tasting Pavilion.
We looked at several areas. There were plenty of vacant buildings in areas we liked. Artsy areas like Deep Ellum, Bishop Arts, Uptown, Downtown, Cedar’s, all had places that fit us nicely.
Most of the locations were empty buildings that were crying to be brought back to life. However, because we are a food establishment, the city required specific upgrades that drove our costs appreciably beyond our budget.
These upgrades were hidden in the “bring the building up to code” requirement. You see in Dallas, if a building is vacant for more than six month’s it now has to be brought “up to code”.
Since most buildings in these areas have been empty for much longer than six month’s, a potential business would be saddled with costs that would never justify the projected income generation from the property.
Since the cost to “bring up to code” is so prohibitive, it often is cheaper to knock the building down and build new. But Dallas wants to “preserve” its heritage and won’t let developers knock down its old buildings. And so, most of these great old buildings sit dormant on empty streets with little hope of a re-awakening.
We spoke to the Dallas EDC about this issue. Nice people, who understand the problem, but whose hands are tied because, as we were told by an EDC employee who asked not to be named, “right now the city is run by the planning and zoning department and they get their paychecks whether we have a vibrant community or a dead one.” A sad, but all too common occurrence.
On the other end of the scale is Seagoville, the town we worked with before Forney “found” us. Seagoville’s EDC is run by a committed Director who understands the need to breath life into the downtown area.
Unlike Dallas’ EDC, who has given in to the reality of their situation, Seagoville’s EDC actively promotes their town and is aggressive in incentives and support to attract potential small businesses.
Unfortunately, the EDC of Seagoville goes it alone. Not because of an adversarial position with the rest of the towns departments. Ambivalent would be a better description of the rest of the town’s view of its downtown area.
Ambivalence can slow down the process but the main issue that prevents Seagoville from attracting businesses to its downtown area is the very property owners themselves.
Resistant to change, unapproachable, unrealistic views of market conditions are key factors that prevent this little town from moving forward. And so Seagoville awaits a reality check of its owners and a commitment by its town before a re-awakening will occur.
And that’s where Forney shines.
To successfully rehabilitate a downtown, you must have a department that champions the town’s vision, an “owner” or “proponent” if you will
You’ll find owners in many towns. Some are committed to the vision and drive relentlessly to make their vision come to life only to be stymied by the rest of the town’s departments who see re-development as a challenge to their power bases.
Other “owners” pay homage to the plan but little else, viewing the town’s vision as a marketing tool rather than an actual re-development plan.
The proponent of Forney’s vision is Forney’s Economic Development Corporation. The 7 member board, Director, Kim Buttram and her staff are relentless in their quest to turn Downtown Forney into a vibrant destination area.
Kim and the EDC are one of the few fortunate champions who have a secret weapon to assure their success. That secret weapon is… the rest of the city. From the Mayor to the City Council, through every department, everyone is on board.
Each department knows what needs to be done and where they can assist to make it happen. The vision of a new Downtown Forney is THEIR vision. Every department leader is briefed on the status of the plan and is proactive in how their department can help make the plan a success.
How does that extrapolate down to the business owner? A few examples of our experience working with the City of Forney will serve to show how Forney is different.
Example #1: Bringing an old building “up to code” – Like Dallas, Forney wants it’s buildings to be safe and up to code. Unlike Dallas, Forney offers the required tools for assistance for the business owner to make it happen.
The EDC works directly with the involved departments on the who, what and where to complete the process. Financial incentive? Yes Forney provides a package that helps ease the pain, but it’s the direct assistance that really makes a difference.
Small business owners are focused on running their business and are often overwhelmed by the paper and process requirements of government. Forney helps facilitate all those requirements. The city made the cost financially acceptable AND the process seamless.
Example #2: Finding the right space – Forney helped us locate a wonderful old Victorian building in downtown, introduced us to the owner and helped package our offer. When that deal fell through, Forney found another building and when that space was found unsuitable for our use, actually traded their EDC offices with us so that we had a space suitable for our use!
Tell me where you’ll find that kind of commitment from any other city!
Example #3: City Involvement – Once you’re open, Forney doesn’t drop the ball and hope revenues roll in. Since the town views itself as your partner, it is with you all the way. Anything it can do to help make you more successful is open for discussion.
Our launch will coincide with a full-page announcement in the local paper, a ribbon cutting black tie event for VIP’s and a massive City of Forney grand opening ceremony for the general public. And Forney is a partner with us throughout the process, getting its officials out and the public involved each step of the way.
If you had to use one word to describe what sets Forney above the rest, that word would be “Commitment”, a commitment to making it happen. We found no other town to have it.
We look forward to being the first in what we believe will be a string of many small business owners, who will help bring a “Uniquely Forney” downtown back to life.
Next Month: Welcome To Our First Tasting Pavilion