When I was young, I use to love watching game shows. Shows like You Bet Your Life, Truth, or Consequences, and What’s My Line were just a few of the 51 game shows that were on television in the 1960s. But I didn’t want to be a contestant on those TV shows. I wanted to be the game show host where I could ad lib jokes and make people laugh and maybe educate people at the same time. I would not even need a teaching certificate for that job.
At the age of 15, I was asked if I was interested in calling out bingo numbers on Wednesday Nights at the senior citizen center where my grandmother lived. I jumped at the opportunity. Who cared that it did not pay anything. It gave me a microphone and work experience.
I am still not sure to this day if most of the seniors had their hearing aids turned off or if I was too hip for the room (calling the numbers out in Roman Numerals probably wasn’t the best idea), but my work experience as a bingo barker was short-lived. I was forced to hand over my microphone to an 86-year-old resident who opened with “What Happens at bingo stays at bingo”.
Fast forward to the 1990s where I was asked to lead the education and training program for the Washington State Department of Commerce, and I felt the divine calling of Groucho Marx to carry on his legacy.
That is why so many economic development graduates in the Northwest have been contestants in Economic Development Jeopardy, the Site Selector Dating Game, Economic Developoly and everyone’s favorite, Who Wants To Be an Economic Developer?
Even though I am officially retired, I would like to pass this on to the next generation of practitioners. It’s a new game that I learned at the Kitsap Economic Alliance Makers, Doers and Dreamers Conference. Though the target audience is entrepreneurs, the game can be modified for economic developers. The name of the game is Start, Stop, or Continue.
The rules are as simple as the title. For too many years, economic developers have been carrying out the same old strategies: mailing surveys to local businesses, creating promotional items for site selectors, focusing on that one big win, all with the hope of stimulating the economy and growing jobs.
But what economic developers should be doing instead is to take a hard look at their tactics and make a decision to start something new, stop doing something that is not working, or continue to do the things that are creating a positive impact in people’s lives.
I will even help practitioners get started by suggesting activities that can be started, stopped or continued in your community.
- Identifying vacant buildings that can be used as pop up facilities for ups.
- Developing a mentor program for high school students that lead to careers.
- Encouraging apprenticeship and intern programs with local businesses.
- Mapping your assets that can be promoted in and out of your community.
- Organizing local investment opportunity networks.
- Thinking regionally and not just locally.
- Creating a co-working space for ups and small businesses.
- Promoting a business plan competition for students and adults.
- Diversifying your economy by developing a workforce of the future.
- Introducing second stage businesses to the benefits of economic gardening.
- Preparing a disaster preparation and recovery plan for the community.
- Using metrics that you have no control over.
- Sending SWAG to site selectors.
- Ignoring the value of makers, doers, and dreamers.
- Making excuses for why infrastructure can’t be funded.
- Comparing your community to others.
- Relying on extinct social media.
- Thinking that economic development provides instant gratification.
- Becoming a one-industry town.
- Competing for limiting funds.
- Thinking of getting that one big win and focus on achieving small victories that achieve prosperity.
- Meeting with your downtown businesses to identify ideas that will increase sales.
- Emphasizing career and technical education to at-risk kids and schools.
- Listening to creative ideas suggested in community forums.
- Providing resources for existing businesses and entrepreneurs.
- Seeking sponsorships for programs and events that promote community.
- Working with workforce and community developers and non-profits as partners and not competitors.
- Participating in Global Entrepreneurship Week/Month.
- Researching what has worked in similar communities to yours and implement best practices.
- Recognizing and honoring people/businesses who have contributed to the community.
Are you having fun yet?
Start, Stop, Continue reveals how we can harness the power of a game to boost community success with sustainable growth. It will give practitioners a different perspective of economic and community development to see what works well and how to fix local problems like unemployment, housing, workforce and other community issues. This game may not be cutting edge, but it has the possibility to change the way business, education and the non-profit worlds can work together.
Games like this are important. They are often how we can learn to interact with others, and they are a reflection of the world we live in. In games and in economic development, when we see that things aren’t working, we have to change them.
And let’s not forget to have fun while we are playing this game. After all, games make people happy which is why we engage. Playing this game will be a lot easier than the hard work that citizens and practitioners will need to do to implement the decisions.
That said, almost nothing makes us happier than good, hard work to achieve a goal. In this state of happiness, we think better, are more positive, connect socially and build personal strengths that will lead to a growing an economy.
Now let me get back to being retired…
“The next number is B-36. Do we have a bingo winner yet?”