Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Place Is More Than A Name Tag

During a witty presentation at a dinner recently, the adaptive-reuse developer of Durham’s historic Lucky Strike factory objected to being called a Raleigh developer, kidding that “I don’t know what I have to do to be a Durham developer.”

He lives in Raleigh where his family has strong generational ties.  Although the email address for his Durham employees and ventures  still says Raleigh, he does have a very valid point.

From now on I, for one, will defend his case and hope that I haven’t offended him in any way.

Being called a Raleigh developer probably began not as a pejorative but when someone tried to distinguish him from indigenous developers with whom he has competed for tenants and resources.

But the fact that he has a Durham base, pays Durham taxes and is proud of his Durham identity is Durham enough for me.  Besides, one of his sons with whom I was an early collaborator on the mammoth project has relocated with his family to Durham.

Drawing interest and investment from outside a community is one part of economic development especially on the premise they will hire local residents and use locally based suppliers.

However, the centerpiece of economic development is always to retain and grow the businesses that are already there in a community, particularly those that are indigenous.

But you know a paradigm has shifted when a developer from a rival community considers that label a pejorative, even in jest, and pleads the case as many do, to be given a Durham identity.

Many in my former field of economic development are betrayed by failing to be loyal to the very community they accept money to promote.  I remember some awkward conversations a decade or more ago in Durham.

I had to gingerly connect the dots for two of my peers in Durham back then that when you take a community’s money to promote its development, embracing the home team comes with the territory.

Here that means Duke, NCCU and the Durham Bulls regardless of your personal preferences.

At the very least, you are honor bound not to make life difficult for local teams by being distracted with personal connections elsewhere or trying to do a favor for neighboring colleagues. That is the job of economic developers in those communities.

These two peers dug an even deeper hole by trying to justify their allegiance to the Raleigh newspaper because the Durham paper had been bought by a company based in Kentucky.  The room grew quiet when I pointed out that the Raleigh paper was owned by a California company.

The term “local” refers not only to growing indigenous businesses, but to those who invest in facilities based in Durham and pay local Durham taxes.

When you represent a community, it is important to fully embrace it, not just when it is convenient.  That includes modifying previously-held personal preferences and alumni allegiances.

Too many in my former field of community marketing as well as other types of organizations in development come off as generic hired guns because they always seem more attached to their field of work than to the communities they serve.

They are easily betrayed when what they do seems “plug and play” and allegiance is paid to powerful interests over local stakeholders.  They always seem more focused on where they will land next or the next rung on the ladder than on the job at hand.

Because their focus is blurred, many are also ethically-challenged.

Part of my job before I retired was advising relocating or expanding businesses on how to become “Durhamized.”  I was pretty good at it, but gladly left that responsibility to my even more capable successor many years ago.

As local officials often tell me, I’ve done a very good job of retiring.

No comments: