Know Your Competition

I am often asked why I selected the title of “Building Main Street, not Wall Street” as the title for my weekly column. The response is always the same, whether we accept the notion that we are in a battle or not, we are in an epic battle for the life and livelihood of small towns and communities.  If we don’t begin to act like we are a player in this struggle, we have already lost.

This week is a week of quotes. Let me start off with two short quotes that convey and support this week’s topic. The first is by Mehmet Murat ildan when he said, “You can’t get the taste of wining in a running competition with a turtle”.  I’ll follow it with a quote by the famous military leader Sun Tzu, when he said, Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive”.

It is imperative that local communities understand the battle or competition they are in. Communities far too long have courted, allowed, and encouraged retail Wall Street companies to set-up shop in their towns. They provide incentives, they realign zoning, they provide tax breaks, and the list goes on.  Communities do this in the hopes that it will create high-paying jobs and lift the local economy.

Make no mistake, Wall Steet companies don’t sit around their board rooms discussing how they can help your local community. Wall Street companies have one thing that matters, their return on the investment of their shareholders. Their investors are relentless and want a substantial return. Finding ways to bring dollars into their coffers is the sole purpose of their existence. They look at communities, and where they choose to locate is where they can extract or remove the most local dollars and bring them home to their investors.

Studies show that local communities with more National retail establishments have lower average incomes. Contrary, those with more locally owned and operated businesses have higher average incomes. Local communities must understand that they are in an epic struggle for their very survival. Every dollar they allow to leave is a dollar that will never return. It is important that we understand the importance of local spending and the impact of keeping the dollars local; it is a necessity that must always be considered.

That said, bear in mind, on occasion there may be some businesses that your local business base may not be able to provide, this is very common in many smaller communities.  In these cases, bringing in outside business, suppliers and/or entrepreneurs may be your only option. Always think long and hard before you alter zoning, tax incentives, and other potential incentives for outside business entities to assure there are no other options. Other than those rare instances, think more about how you can incentivize local investors, entrepreneurs, and innovative minds to build or open businesses that fit your area’s needs.

Lastly, let me touch on local government spending. The local government is often the entity that spends the most outside the community. If any local government is to be taken seriously when it comes to truly being local, they must always seek to spend their dollars with local companies.  If there is a comparable local option and they choose an outside source, that can be considered local government fiscal malpractice. Local government must lead by example to let the entire community know they are loyal to their community – they will follow your example.

I began my column with two quotes, let me end with one as well. Robert Jordan most appropriately once said, “Never make a plan without knowing as much as you can of the competition. Never be afraid to change your plans when you receive new information. Never believe you know everything. And never wait to know everything”.

John Newby is a nationally recognized Columnist, Publisher, Community, Business, Media, Strategic Consultant & Speaker. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column is enjoyed by 60+ communities around the country. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists community and business leaders in building synergies that create vibrant communities. He can be reached at:


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