08 May Let’s Take A Step Forward And Work Together To Bring Bloomington/Normal “Back”
Change can be scary, especially when we can’t control it. For the first time in what feels like a long time, there’s real fear in Bloomington-Normal. The economy and where we’re headed is in question. For decades, we’ve been blessed to have large, well-respected companies, proud to call our community their home, building large corporate headquarters and employing tens of thousands here with high-paying jobs that benefited the community.
We’ve relied on these relationships, and we’ve gotten comfortable with them. So when things change, even when there have been signs of this coming for years, many of us start to worry and even panic. As we all know, State Farm cut around 900 IT positions, and Mitsubishi left several years ago. We’ve also lost large retailers, including Toys “R” Us, J.C. Penney, Gordmans, Macy’s, Borders, and we will soon lose Bergners.
While talking to small business owners and others in the community over the past few months, I’ve heard concerns. Concerns about State Farm moving elsewhere, concerns about the direction of our local government, and concerns about how tech and other growing industries will impact our two cities.
The majority of us share similar concerns, yet we haven’t come together to make the necessary changes. I strongly believe that we have the resources needed to overcome these challenges and become one of the strongest economies and communities in the Midwest, but we can’t get there doing what we’ve always done. We’ll never be “back” to where we were economically, but we can become stronger together by taking advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead of us.
We need to turn our fear into action, and get comfortable with, and even embrace, change.
If you are ready and willing to work together to build a better Bloomington-Normal, then here are 6 ways each of us can get started:
Get involved more in the community
Community involvement helps make real change happen, and the opportunities to get involved are endless. Search for and become active in a local organization or committee. Attend a McLean County Chamber of Commerce meeting to meet local business owners. Champion or mentor a local startup, propose a student capstone project, offer resources and connections you have to businesses in the area, or even start your own small business here.
Everything we can do to inform, support, and participate in community and business-related events will strengthen our ecosystem, which is incredibly important in order for us to succeed as a community.
“Support” local small businesses
We’ve all heard a variation of the phrase “shop local” before. It’s an effort to get you to stop shopping at national grocery and retail chains and stop in to homegrown businesses, like Green Top Grocery and Common Ground.
I’m not going to tell you to shop local because that is your decision to make and things like convenience and price matter. But what I will say is the more we support our local businesses, the more attractive our area becomes for other businesses to relocate to, and for new ones to form.
Local businesses also sell outside of McLean County, meaning they are bringing money back to the community. We should be connecting with and advocating for these companies, because the value they provide to the community is vital for sustainability and growth. Get to know these businesses and their owners, what they are doing and why, and ask how you can support their efforts.
Businesses and conversations can both have an impact that reach far beyond their intention. For example, not everything discussed at Coffee Hound or Fusion Brew is about coffee, and a business selling yoga athletic apparel will impact other businesses in the area that have nothing to do with sports or meditation. Sharing how they impact other businesses could be good here.
We need to start talking and open up conversations with each other. From 2 to 110-years-old, from white-collar CEO to unemployed college graduate — everyone needs to be involved in conversations that can move us forward.
Discuss what businesses you would want to see in this area and why. Come up with ideas of what companies could utilize the unused existing retail spaces and warehouses. Start a conversation about how current and future companies can compliment Brandt’s new presence in town. And ask local entrepreneurs about their business, like our own cryptocurrency regulatory expert and Founder of BitAML, Joe Ciccolo, questions like “what exactly is Bitcoin?” Let’s start talking and getting to know each other and the city better with a goal of taking action on these conversations.
Find ways to add value to others
Everyone has something of value to offer to other people in our community, businesses, and local government. Sometimes realizing what that is can be difficult. For example, I have worked with many businesses in the past in different industries. When I see a clear-cut way that two businesses I’m familiar with can add value to each other, I will ask both if they want to be introduced. It’s a simple way I can add value to these businesses.
If you’re a writer, maybe you’d be willing to write an article a month for a local business or nonprofit for free. If you’re a web designer, you could hold a free class at the library or a local business each month. If you’re retired or have some additional available time you can afford to give, volunteer locally to help a small business or nonprofit.
While you might not get paid directly for what you’re giving away, there is value being given to those you are helping that will impact their business or nonprofit and be passed on to others. And future opportunities may come to you as a result, like a job offer or a new client. But it’s important to get in a mindset of openly giving value to others, even if it’s a small amount, to help your community, which in turn, also helps you and your family.
Don’t rely on nostalgia or what has worked in the past
Change is uncomfortable, but the world, and certainly the business landscape, is changing and changing quickly. Many shoppers that previously went to the mall are now choosing ecommerce options instead. It’s not something we like to admit, but it’s happening and having an impact on our economy. This doesn’t mean we should abandon support for our local retail locations, but it means we need to carefully evaluate where the market is headed, what local consumers want, and then shape future plans to best take advantage of available opportunities.
This includes helping local businesses spread their message outside of our own community. If foot traffic is down, promote on Facebook and Instagram. If print advertising is no longer cost-effective, consider utilizing online video advertising. With change comes opportunity, but only if we’re open to this change and not relying on nostalgia and what has worked in the past to lead us forward.
Know there’s a give and take
We don’t need to build a new city, we need to better utilize our existing assets through innovation and entrepreneurship. We will never be “back” to where we were decades ago, nor should we try. Instead, we need to bring back collaboration and come together to solve the difficult problems we face as a community. Take a deep breath, sit down for a cup of coffee at Coffee Hound (or one of our other great local coffee shops), and get involved.
There is hope, and we have the resources and capabilities as a community to rise above the challenges we face with our current economy. Let’s do something about it together.
Imge Source: IvoShandor