Don’t Make it A Christmas List

An economic development plan shouldn’t be a Christmas list of all the wonderful things your community wants to open this year (and the next several years).  Such plans aren’t anymore realistic than the pony you wrote to Santa about when you were 9.

If you going to update your economic development plan (or strategy) in 2019, consider these two Christmas themed points:

  1. The Story Matters – It’s hard for me to recall a great example of a long Christmas story (or one that I can’t easily break into bullet points to give you the highlights).  Possibly because Christmas was such a big deal in my house, but it’s also because we are much better at telling, remembering and enjoying stories that are identifiable, exciting and brief.  A successful plan needs to be constructed with the story in mind so that your stakeholders can tell it as easily as you can and your prospects will remember it before others.  Just keep thinking about how War & Peace may be a literary achievement, but Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch that Stole Christmas likely had greater impact on you (and your children).
  2. Be Rudolph not Frosty – Rudolph’s nose gave him an advantage over the competition.  Finding your greatest asset and how to leverage it as a competitive advantage is the main task of any successful strategy.  Unfortunately, too many planning efforts try to hang a hat on transforming a community into something their not – a sure way to slowly fade (or melt) into irrelevance.

Need help with an economic development strategic plan?  We can help

The problem with being a “Great Place to Live, Work & Play”

Traveling around as much as I do, I hear it from Mayors, I see it in community vision and mission statements, and I read it in marketing brochures. . .

[insert city name here] – “A Great Place to Live, Work and Play/Shop/Stay”

It’s been the tagline, catch phrase, sound bite, etc. for years now.  And candidates for governor and congress use it in speeches (even last night), chambers use it, downtown groups use it, economic developers use it, etc.  And this is a big problem.  So, if you’re marketing yourself as a great place to live, work and play, your community has no chance to stand out.  NO CHANCE!

Here’s why:

  1. What does this statement really tell me about your community?  Nada.  It doesn’t tell me who you are, what you have, or what’s unique.  So looking at “Anywhere: An awesome place to live, work and play” and “Lake Town: Live a Lake Life” which one do you want to know more about?  You’re community needs to be united around an identify that is unique and authentic to you.
  2. At best you’re running with the pack when using this as the fulcrum of your marketing.  I can type “great place to live work and play” into Google and get 4.35 trillion hits.  Sort through the first few pages and you’ll see community after community saying the exact same thing, along with a couple articles like this and some articles about live, work play (LWP) mixed use type projects.
  3. And the pack you’re running in is big.  It’s the more than 35,000 places in the United States that have a permanent population and buildings (Source: USGS), especially the 19,500 cities, towns and incorporated places (

So if you’re using (or thinking about using) “Great Place to Live, Work and Play” to describe your community, STOP!  Because even declining rural communities can stake the same claim, because their declining population is less about them and more on the fact that there are better places out there to live, work and play. . . ones that have a better marketing message or that are willing to invest in the amenities and infrastructure that proves it.

Still think it doesn’t apply to every community?  Then envision the supermarket.  You may not want to buy a can of sardines, but there are cans of it on the shelf because that is what some wants to buy them.


Rhodora Annexation Clears State Board

Lake Stevens, Washington.  The Washington State Boundary Review Board (BRB) for Snohomish County issued its written decision Tuesday, denying an appeal brought by landowners in the area.  The decision clears the way for approval of the Rhodora Annexation by the Lake Stevens City Council subject to expiration of the 30 day appeal period on BRB decisions.

Our firm has managed the annexation process for the initiating landowners (initiators), including circulation of the 10% and 60% annexation petitions, developing and distributing information about the annexation to residents, and representing initiators in the annexation proceedings.

If final approval is granted by the Lake Stevens City Council, the annexation would bring approximately 103 acres into the City at the southeast end of the lake.  More information

Toyer Discusses Trestle’s Economic Challenges

The U.S. Highway 2 corridor between Everett, Washington and Lake Stevens, Washington is a big transportation issue that impacts the lives of many residents and businesses.  The Lake Stevens community has started a #LetsFixTheTrestle movement to help highlight the need for investment in this critical infrastructure.

In a recent interview, David Toyer, owner of Toyer Strategic, discusses the economic challenges the Trestle creates in Lake Stevens.

Chose Your Words Carefully

“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” – Confucius

Language is complex and ever changing. But at its root, language is about telling a story. Communicating events, expressing emotions and inviting imagination to visualize what you’re saying.

So, it’s no wonder the words we use can often make a situation better or worse. The following example from one of our past projects demonstrates the challenge and explains how we coach our clients in evaluating the emotional intensity of the words they are about to use.

A few years back one of our clients sent us an “FYI” email that they had been contacted by a reporter about one of their projects and they were planning to send a quick email to respond to questions the reporter had asked.

It was 2008 and development projects weren’t attracting positive headlines. We sensed that there may be more to the reporter’s inquiry and we called the client for more details.

The client brought us up to speed that they had been sent an email from a reporter and not feeling in any danger, our client had already written an email in response. Thankfully, the client hadn’t yet hit send. The following is a generalized and simplified version of the inquiry and my client’s response:

Reporter’s email:

I have received emails and calls from a few of your customers concerned about the changes in what your units are worth and how that is going to impact their ability to finance and close on their purchases. They are growing impatient and I am considering whether to do a story. What’s your reaction?

Opening of Client’s Draft Response:

We understand that some of our customers are angry and frustrated . . .

We’d heard enough from the client, it was time we intervened.

First, the reporter was baiting the client by suggesting he was only considering whether to do a story. The reporter was most certainly going to write a story, but wanted to see what my client might say in a low pressure, less formal situation. Second, had the client sent the email response unedited we are certain the reporter’s article would have taken on a different tone.

There is a big difference between the two characterizations. Concerned and impatient customers have questions. But, angry and frustrated customers have lawyers and grudges.

Why? There was a conflict between the reporter’s and the client’s emotional intensity expressed by the words in their statements.  The reporter’s question characterized the customers as “concerned” and “impatient.” However, our client’s response characterized the customers as “angry” and “frustrated.”

There is a big difference between the two characterizations. Concerned and impatient customers have questions. But, angry and frustrated customers have lawyers and grudges.

By changing the characterization of the customer’s emotion, our client had elevated the emotional intensity of the situation, which would have reshaped how readers might interpret the customer’s situation and relate it to their own experiences as customers themselves.

Further, our client would have given the reporter no choice but to write a story and at the same time, provided a new intensity and urgency for the story.   Finally, our client’s second paragraph of their statement – a succinct and thoughtful analysis of the customer’s concerns and examples how they were working with the customers – would have taken a backseat to the visual imagery the reader of the news story would associate with “angry and frustrated” customers.

Ultimately, we helped our client respond to the reporter and avoid elevating the intensity of the story.

To further demonstrate the importance of understanding the emotional intensity of words, here is an example illustrating the range of intensity that can be associated with the emotion of anger. Think about how each makes you feel and what circumstances you associate with them.

Basic Emotion:


Lower Intensity:

Upset, concerned

Elevated Intensity:

Irritated, Offended

Highest Intensity:

Enraged, Repulsed