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I read a series of articles on a public policy website by Gabe Gabrielsen titled, “Why Most Local Governments Fail at Economic Development.” Gabe included a story about Dan Blocker of Bonanza TV show fame. His aspiration was to run a business: two restaurant chains, Bonanza and Ponderosa Steakhouses — family friendly steakhouses with names people could relate to.
Before Hoss opened his restaurants, he went to a consulting firm and asked one question: “Is there anything I can do to ensure my steakhouses will succeed?” They replied, “Dan, if you want your steakhouses to succeed — don’t sell steaks — sell their sizzle. Don’t highlight raw meat; people can buy that anywhere. Instead, focus on the sizzle you will provide.”
Is Pagosa selling “raw meat” such as, “we have good schools,” “beautiful views,” “raw land”or do we sell the sizzle that our community has?
The article also poses another reason local governments often fail to attract economic development — “the lack of a plan.” According to the article,“Ask almost any local government official, ‘What type of economic development would you like to see in your community?’ Most will be dumbfounded at the question. Eventually they may tell you they want economic development that will pay good wages. But that reveals the lack of a plan or a vision for the community’s future. Would they want a toxic waste site in their community? Of course not. Would they want a strip of gentlemen clubs downtown? Of course not. Would they want an open pit mining operation nearby? Of course not.”
The primary reason most communities don’t have a plan for economic development is because their local public officials never take the time to sit down and seriously discuss what their community is actually best suited for and what the community actually wants. A few communities have and wow look at the results they generated, like Branson, Mo.
According to the Branson website, it has a rich history dating back to its first days in the 1800s. Starting with a small store at a riverboat stop, the city now boasts over 40 theaters with 60,000 theater seats, over 70 live theater shows, over 200 lodging facilities with over 23,000 lodging rooms, 5,000 camping spaces, over 350 restaurants, three lakes, nine golf courses, over 200 retail outlets, numerous attractions, caves to explore and year round activities and entertainment. Surprisingly, the U.S. Census of 2010 reveals that there are only 10,520 people residing in the city — about the same number that reside in the area surrounding Pagosa Springs. Incredible. Not the place anyone would envision locating a premiere, live, national music center. This community did not rely on haphazard economic development.
They had a plan to sell the sizzle.