Last week I had the opportunity to attend the National Main Streets Conference in downtown Detroit, a city with plenty of deep problems, but working hard to survive. Major corporate support is not just needed there; it's imperative. Frankly, without it, Detroit won't survive.
There were plenty of conversations revolving around "corporate sponsorship." Some of those were about how to ask for money and others were aimed at giving attendees a better understanding for what corporations are looking for.
Some sessions were worthwhile; many were not. But overall, there were several great ideas that presented themselves. Most had common themes that addressed where downtown committee people should be focusing. Here's what I learned.
First, we should realize that downtown Parkersburg's challenges are not much different from most downtowns. Actually, when you look at a city like Detroit, our downtown challenges appear to be pretty small. But size is a relative issue and like most challenges, identifying them is easy; solving them is hard.
The reality is that most downtowns went dormant because suburbia became more attractive for a list of reasons and the average downtown couldn't, or wouldn't, compete. Now, however, small town urbanism is increasingly popular, especially to the twenty and thirty-somethings. And, if we rebuild it, they will come.
Secondly, we need to do a better job at communicating what's going on to each other, even when communication is more complicated and diverse. Locally, we only have two local major media outlets, but there are thousands of TV stations, radio stations, and internet sites competing for our attention. That's probably why we all know about the missing Malaysian jet, but there aren't 200 people, out of 9,000 working in downtown that know what's going on at the Smoot, Art Center or Actors Guild.
By the way, how many of these 9,000 people knew who was running for school board?
Thirdly, we should reconsider the notion of "corporate sponsorship." I, personally, don't think corporate citizenship has diminished, but it has changed. The bowling league and the Little League are still there, but so are thousands of groups competing for a small pool of resources. All companies are looking to get the best bang for their corporate buck. And, at the end of the day, a corporate sponsorship must go toward what they see as the best benefit for their employees' quality of life. We must make downtown redevelopment benefit our corporate partners.
Lastly, as I sat in these conference sessions, one theme was confirmed several times. Local problems are best solved with local solutions. This is why we should all be in favor of "home rule." Bluntly put, the wonderful folks in Charleston do not appear to be smarter than the folks here at home. We must all take responsibility for our own community and its downtown because we know it best.
Keep in mind that the quality of life you enhance will be your own.
Come see me. I'll be in the lounge.
Cecil Childress is general manager of the Blennerhassett Hotel and Chairman of Downtown PKB.