Published first on the Progress News, March 21, 2022
We talk a lot in this column about the role of community organizations like the ORA, and we’ve touched somewhat on the role of individuals and businesses in community redevelopment. Today, though, I’d like to take a deeper dive into the role of businesses in community resilience. It probably makes perfect sense that our small businesses are the backbone of our small communities because they are run by and for the people who make up a community. Research has shown, though, that the relationship goes well beyond the obvious co-dependence of suppliers and customers who also happen to be neighbors.
Business communities, whether they are bound together by formal Chambers of Commerce or other Business Associations or even just simple, continual communication and cooperation, can make or break the long-term resilience of a small town because of their multi-faceted impact. Certainly, a strong business association – formal or informal – will support and help member businesses to grow and thrive, building capacity and capitalizing on resources and opportunities that individual business owners might not be able to access on their own. But a strong business association will also be aware of their purpose, both as an association and as member businesses, which must necessarily extend beyond profit or the short-term benefit of individual companies. That purpose, which in business language is often referred to as the consumer need or demand, takes on a special meaning in a small community.
We might need cat food, a place to go out to dinner, or gas for our car, but we consumers inherently look for things that make us feel safe, comfortable…at home. The smaller our community, the more our perception of community identity aligns with what gives us those warm, fuzzy feelings. If we step into a store in our community that feels out of touch with what we consider “home,” then we are unlikely to want to return to it. If a business feels “right,” then we will stand by it, even go out of our way to support it. So, a business, and a business association, needs to understand what makes people feel safe and at home, the values and goals that are important to the community, in order to thrive.
The warm fuzzies spread out from there. Research has shown that strong business associations, intentionally or otherwise, promote the improvement of civil society. When people feel better about their neighborhoods, including their local shops, they have more pride, they feel more connection, and they take better care of each other. They also feel better able to open their arms wider and take better care of more of their community. A town’s capacity for tolerance, understanding, respect, and compassion are therefore directly impacted by how “tuned in” its businesses are. It stands to reason that the more intentionally businesses take on their role in a community, the more beneficial an impact they can have.
We are so fortunate to have a number of strong, intentional business associations in our region. If you are interested in learning more or becoming a member of your local association, please reach out. We’re all in this redevelopment journey together, and we are most definitely strongest when we actively, intentionally work together for the good of all!