Failure is Not an Option

Lamar Norton, GMA Executive Director

May 9, 2012

Lamar Norton

Lamar Norton

There are a lot of inspiring quotes out there regarding success and failure. One of my favorites is, “The only real failure in life is the failure to try.” Too often, people are reluctant to make changes for fear of failure, but, in hesitating, they fail their communities. If you want change to come to your city, you have to be willing to change yourself.

Georgia cities are traditionally innovative. City leaders are willing to find new ways of operating and cooperating to deliver more efficient, better services. One example is broadband internet access. When the private industry wouldn’t bring high speed internet to some communities, they set out on their own to do so. Now, the private industry would say that some of those companies were “failures,” but they miss the point of what the goal and objectives of these systems were. It was not to make a profit and increase the dividends to their shareholders. These systems provided a necessary infrastructure for businesses and industry that could not operate without it and offered better access to online resources for students. Once those goals were achieved, and the private industry saw the value of providing the same service, the systems were sold. But between the time the systems began operating and eventually sold, they brought in revenue to the cities and increased economic development.

Those cities were willing to try something different to spur economic development. Not every city has to build an internet system, though, to create change. Look around your community: Are you engaging all of your partners? Are you listening to the businesses, the schools, the non-profits? Successful communities tap into the talents and resources of many different individuals and resources. City government can not create change on its own; others must also buy in to the vision.

And how are you getting that vision across? Not everyone is motivated by the same factors. Some individuals are motivated by the philanthropic desire to help out the community; others are more financially motivated. When you talk about the city’s plans for the city, are you tapping into their interests and getting them excited about the future and the opportunities that await?

The reality of economic development is that Kia plants and Caterpillar manufacturing facilities are few and far between. Most cities are going to find economic development in the form of mom and pop shops, in the entrepreneurs in their downtowns. Is your city positioned to create that blend of entrepreneurship and opportunity? Don’t forget those shops are also partners; they need your help in marketing their services or products and you need them to help market the downtown. The Main Street and Better Hometown programs have marketing as a goal, and that expertise can be used to help business owners develop their own marketing plans.

Take time out of the “here and now” to see what’s coming next, what the trends are. Fewer and fewer young people are driving. What is that going to mean for your city in 10, 15 and 20 years? Is your city ready to accommodate these young people who expect to be able to walk, ride bikes or take mass transit to and from jobs?

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the Baby Boomers. That generation, the largest in our country’s history, is moving out of the workforce and into retirement. Has your city prepared to address the needs this population group will have?

We’ll be talking about all these issues at the Annual Convention this year. I hope you will take part in the conversations, and, more importantly, take home some ideas to share in your community and commit to try. The only way you can fail is if you do nothing.