‘Connections, community’ is answer to Akron prosperity

Posted September 28, 2017 at 5:00 am

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final in a series on the visit of Save- Your.Town co-founder Deb Brown who came to Akron Sept. 5 – 7.

The first two steps of SaveYour.Town’s three step “Idea-Friendly” Concept, 1) Gather Your Crowd and 2) Build Connections, are something Akron residents have been doing a long time but the third step is a problem.

The third is an action step, Take Small Steps, said SaveYour.Town Co-founder Deb Brown.

“We can do all that,” said an audience member at her Sept. 6 presentation in Akron. “It’s the action we have problems with.”

As Brown visited with many business owners and organization committees during her three-days in Akron the first week in September, she also reported one person said, “Akron has one problem: loyalty…(they don’t do business in Akron first.)”

Another comment was “Our community needs to start acting like a community.”

“The time has passed and I love this quote: when a few influential people could gather in a room and decide what a city will be,” Brown responded. “It used to be that there were six white guys who met in a back room and decided what was happening with their town. They didn’t tell anybody about it. They kept it a secret. They figured it all out and then they invited them to the city council meeting where they told them what they were going to do.”

“Those days are gone,” said Brown. “The future is now. We’re in the middle of the future. The stuff that is coming is crazy — driverless cars, drone deliveries. It will happen. Are you ready for it?”

“We are in the middle of an epic power shift — away from government, social organizations and big businesses towards the individual,” said Brown, noting there were city officials present. “You elect them and the individual is in charge of them and they are not in charge of you. And if you haven’t voted, shame on you.”

The good news is in this town, in the last election 22 percent of the people voted, she said. “That is fabulous. I don’t get to see those numbers often — it’s normally 8 to 12 percent.”

“Remember the individual is really in charge,” said Brown, telling the audience they can go tell City Administrator Dan Rolfes you don’t like how this is happening. Even better say, I have an idea and what if we try that.

“To be a community, you have to be a community,” she said. “There is no us versus them. We are all on the same team. You have to learn to get along. You just can’t gripe all the time but you can complain nicely and come up with a solution to fix it. Sometimes we forget to do that.”

“The power is now in our hands,” said Brown. “We have communication tools that 20 year ago were unthought of…(now smart phones, soon driverless cars.) We’re going to love it. It will happen.”

“Are we going to be good stewards of the technology, which is driving the new business models?” she asked.

“Rural communities that have managed to thrive exhibit one shared value — an openness to new ideas,” said Brown, quoting an Iowa State University survey over 20 years. “Think about the ideas you have, share them with your neighbor, talk with your children and grandchildren. See what they are thinking about and give great value to their ideas.”

Be A Tourist

Think tourism in Akron, said Brown. Be a tourist over the next month in Akron. Look around you. Pretend you’re a tourist in your own hometown.

The Gazebo. Weddings in the gazebo. We do that but does Des Moines know that? Think a little bit bigger. Lots of money for a wedding there…money in your community.

Think outside of your town, she said. Remember you are a tourist. You want those people here spending their good money. The way to do that is show them these things.

River Fun. Fishing and activities there — How can the river affect you and your community, said Brown. This is a gold mine.

Angie Small, of Akron, wants a bakery/coffee shop…what if you put a small mobile building at the river’s side, she said. Share your ideas, discuss financing.

The Chamber’s sign in the middle of Street, said Brown. Great. Put it on In-stagram. Use the power of the internet to draw people to Akron.

Tell the stories, she said. About the businessman who helps his customers in a financial bind and that’s just a tip of the customer service quality in Akron.

Beautiful buildings, said Brown. Historical tours. Cemetery tours. Do it for your community first. Share the stories, then tell the stories. Do tours; invite bus tours.

One idea of hers was to tear down the fence along Reed Street, between the “Town Square” building at Third and Reed Streets and Chad Ericson’s Legacy Financial Office at 321 Reed St. Make this into a small park for people to gather.

Final Thoughts

After three days of visiting Akron, Brown left Akron. As she drove down the road to the next small town on her journey, Brown took time to answer some Akron Hometowner questions.

Overall Akron Impression: There were two things that struck me. First, everyone was super kind and were honestly curious and asked a lot of questions. Second, The houses are beautiful in Akron. I was really impressed with how the town itself looked.

Impressions of Business Climate: Did you know Akron has 105 businesses in town — not including any of the home-based or online businesses?

Akron’s a pretty typical small town. People want it to grow. People want to see new businesses downtown. There are some who’d like to have more manufacturing, and I hear this often in many communities that are trying to figure out how to grow their community from Point A to Point B. Akron was really no different in that there are some older businesses, some newer business. It’s really encouraging to see new growth so you already have a good job start on surrounding communities for sure.

What Does Akron Need To Change? I think having great communication to start building more community. Getting the younger people — age 40 and younger — involved in spending time locally first before going out of town to shop. Gaining more support locally.

Not that it’s bad in Akron because it’s not, said Brown. It’s just getting people to pay a little more attention to what they are surrounded by and the good news of what they already have and what they can doto support that to continue to grow Akron.

Most Glaring Defect. There’s really nothing that sticks out glaring. There are lots of little things that people could come together and do or work on.

Frankly, you’re situated well along the Big Sioux River, said Brown, so you could use some more outreach with tourism because everything is there. You’ve got an amazing community for people to come to, visit and do things — the museum, opera house, and shops downtown, places to camp and fish…the Hole N’ The Wall Lodge.

One thing lacking is places for overnight stay, she said, suggesting people consider second-story housing or have residents do AirBNBs (See www.airbnb.com).

Most Memorable Moment: What really worked for me was being able to spend one-on-one or one-on-two time talking with people at their businesses and finding out what they’d like to see in town and what their challenges were. These conversations I found beneficial for me, and I hope for the person I was talking to. I love hearing the stories and that’s what I got to do.

Final Message: I’d like to thank the entire community for answering the millions of questions I asked and for showing up Sept. 5 and 6 nights and listening to the stories I shared.

I’d love to have the community know it’s their community and it has real potential to be even more fabulous than it is. What it’s going to take and it’s the same with every small town — break down the silos and start talking to each other.

You can’t always assume you’re right about everything. You’ve got to listen, too. Maybe, just maybe, somebody else has a good idea, too.

I think all ideas are worth trying, and I know the good ones will work and the ones that aren’t so good will go by the wayside but you’ve got to be willing to let people try their ideas and to support each other.

Gather Your Crowd. Build Your Connections. Take Small Steps.

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