Additional Factors in Project Feasibility

Companies, especially those in real estate development, have developed comprehensive due diligence/feasibility processes to determine if a project is a go or no-go.

But even the best due diligence/feasibility processes we’ve seen lack an understanding of the ‘political’ elements impacting a project, which often results in one of two scenarios:

1. The company passes on a project in response to a perceived regulatory roadblock, which if investigated further might be easily navigated, or

2. The company proceeds with a project only to run into an ‘unexpected’ political change that threatens the entitlements they seek (e.g. moratoriums, more stringent regulations, emergency ordinances, etc.).

We’ve got solutions and here’s how we help:

  • Political & Regulatory Risk Assessments – We specialize in understanding local and state regulatory systems and we excel at researching local regulatory trends, past project results, changing political winds (example: is the no-growth neighborhood group running candidates to flip the local council/board?).  We can help your company assess the political and regulatory risks prior to your investment.
  • Reverse Engineering of Regulatory Roadblocks – Have you ever passed on a project because you ran into a single regulatory limitation that didn’t fit the project (e.g. allowed % of lot coverage was too low for your home designs)? We help companies assess regulatory roadblocks and design strategies that can change the red flag your seeing into a green light.
  • Maximizing the Project’s Value – What if you could get a little more density?  Shorten your approval by a few weeks?  Or reduce some of your project’s conditions?  We can help with that.  We understand the politics of negotiation, as well as the opportunities to speed up local regulatory processes, and we can assist you in maximizing your next project’s value.
  • Proactive Project Mine-Clearing – Developing relationships, seeking code interpretations, securing code amendments – are all efforts we can manage on your behalf prior to your next project moving forward.
  • Community Outreach – There’s nothing worse than thinking everything is going great only to go to hearing and have dozens of neighbors show up in opposition.  We are experienced at communicating with neighborhoods and adjacent landowners, and we can help your company manage long-term project risk by utilizing the opportunity to address concerns early in the process.

Want to learn more about how we can help your projects?  Contact us.

The Day We Saved the Wine

[sg_popup id=”2322″ event=”onLoad”][/sg_popup]willis-hallSmall businesses often run into big problems.  And they don’t have the resources to hire lawyers and fight for fairness. Instead, they need an advocate that can help them navigate a reasonable, cost effective solution.

The following case study is a great example of how we help small business:

The Day We Saved the Wine

John Bell parlayed his passion for wine into Willis Hall Winery in 2003.  By 2006, Seattle Magazine awarded him “Best New Winemaker in Washington.”

However, in late 2007 Snohomish County initiated a code enforcement action against Willis Hall Winery threatening to shut down the operation for failure to comply with the county’s home occupation code.  Mr. Bell hired a land use attorney to appeal the enforcement action, but such an appeal had some risks and was a slow process.  With millions of dollars invested, John couldn’t afford to shut down his winery or move aging barrels of wine to a new location.

Willis Hall retained our company in early 2008 to assist his land use counsel in the appeal of the County’s order, as well as explore non-legal remedies.

Seeking to avoid litigating the matter, our company proposed several alternative technical solutions – offering research that his business may be a grandfathered use, applying for a code interpretation that the winery was an incidental use to the residence, and seeking an administrative zoning variance under a set of binding conditions.  All of these solutions were rejected by county staff.

With the appeal hearing looming, we put on our lobbyist cap and approached the County Council. Recognizing the politics of shutting a business down, the Council Chairman was willing to consider adding an amendment to a zoning ordinance pending before the Council, providing a legal basis for the Willis Hall to exist.

Our company drafted the language for the amendment and worked with the prosecuting attorney’s office and planning department to ensure it wouldn’t run afoul of any growth management laws.

A short time later the County Council approved the amendment and Willis Hall was saved.

Should Washington Encourage Night Hauling

Should Washington Encourage Night Hauling?

The greater Seattle metro area is experiencing a tremendous amount of economic growth, which when coupled with the state’s growth management laws (constraining developable areas) and notorious traffic congestion should lead to the question: “What if communities required new industrial and commercial construction to haul fill and like materials at night?”

The PROS:

  1. Get truck traffic off the roads at peak hours to reduce congestion and pollution from idling
  2. Shorten travel times for deliveries, which reduces construction costs and accelerates completion of site improvements

The CONS:

  1. Potential for noise impacts on residential areas if noise mitigating measures aren’t employed
  2. A greater need for regulators to monitor site construction at night

USPTO Approves MicGrowPolitan® Trademark

A couple of weeks ago we received some exciting news.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office has official approved and registered our trademark for MicGrowPolitan® – a brand of economic development services created and tailored to the needs of the nation’s 551 official Micropolitan Statistical Areas.  Learn more

Experiencing Bellaire Michigan

Foreword: this blog post is the result of an excellent customer experience at the Bellaire Smokehouse, which we’re using in this blog as a prelude to highlighting some best practices that small communities (and their businesses) can deploy for economic development success in their downtown.

Our Bellaire Experience
This week we’ve been in Bellaire, MI on vacation.  How did we pick Bellaire?  Well, it happens to have a resort that accepts exchange points from a time share our family owns and it is conveniently located within a short drive of my wife’s best friend (and her family).

Bellaire has a population of roughly 1,000 and is located next to Lake Bellaire, but the village itself is not on the lakefront.  The village’s Bridge Street is their “main street” and it features restaurants, bars and shops. On it’s face, (and without diving into the data on the community) we assume that two season tourism is a primary driver of the local economy (especially given its proximity to several resorts).

Not to take away from the great food and service we got anywhere else in Bellaire, but the most memorable customer experience came at the Bellaire Smokehouse as my family (5 of us) and our friends (4 of them) were browsing through the various shops in the village.  They were familiar with the Smokehouse and suggested we go take a look and it was our full intent to drop in and just look around, especially since our 7 year old is an impatient shopper.

Not long after entering the Smokehouse, Karen (one of the owners) offered our 7 year old a fruit snack from a cookie jar or fruit snacks she had on the top of the counter.  Not only did that simple gesture change his mood, but it took some pressure off of us and allowed us to more comfortably look around.  And she let us try a couple of samples of smoked fish sausage.  By the time we left the store both families had made purchases including a few extras for the kids (like honey sticks).

So why was this such a big deal?  Because what Karen did as a small retailer was a perfect example of how local retailers in smaller communities are winning by creating both “emotional connections” and “unique experiences” for their customers.

Suggested Reading:
Inc Article on Why Shopping Experiences Lure Customers
Read “Customer Service and the WOW Moment” in this ShopKeep blog
Shopify Blog: The Science of Free Samples (and how it can boost sales)

What Successful Communities & Business Are Doing
One of the biggest challenges for small and rural communities is the struggle to stay relevant and survive (let alone thrive), as they face the squeeze of online shopping, competition from nearby big box stores and, in many cases, declining populations.

For those retailers and communities that are successful, it usually comes down to things they are doing that the unsuccessful ones aren’t.  The most common are:

  1. Selling More than Stuff.  The retailers aren’t just selling products, they are developing emotional connections and selling customer experiences. Our experience at the Bellaire Smokehouse was awesome, but there are more examples of it.  In one instance we saw a small clothing retailer located next door to a restaurant who would offer customers spending over a certain amount “lunch on them” via a small gift card.  And for multiple customers visiting the store together (who spent a certain amount) they would let them know the store would be happy to reserve an after hours, by appointment time for them to come back to shop as a group and enjoy some food catered in from next door.  Those experiences may sound like something out of a “Real Housewives of. . .” show, but this is happening in a small town of 8,000 in rural Iowa.
  2. Working Together.  The retailers survive because of a “pack” mentality.The example we most often see is that multiple stores carry each other’s local products and they aren’t afraid to recommend that if you like “X” in our store, you may want to visit Store A to see what they have too. And even more important, if their a clothing retailer is located next to a popular coffee shop, they ARE NOT posting “No food or drink in store” on their entry.  Why? Because if I have to shop with my wife without that latte in my hand .  . . well, you get the gist.
  3. Activity Draws Interest.  They create activity to draw in more activity. Being open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday doesn’t work for small retailers in small communities.  Unless you have heavy traffic from tourists, you’re not open when those who have money can spend it with you.When downtown businesses in small communities stay open nights and weekends, and their communities support them with outdoor spaces and even activities (like live music, extra large sidewalk jenga, etc.) the combined efforts draw large crowds of people into common places, resulting in increased spending.  For more ideas, we suggest checking out the Downtown Destination Association (Roger Brooks), who encourages communities wanting vibrant downtowns to have over 250 events per year.
  4. An Identity & Pride.  They have an identity as well as community pride. In Bellaire, I was impressed with how even their police cars reflect community spirit by displaying the school’s “Eagles” logo.  Communities that are winning demonstrate their local pride through public art, well maintained public spaces, and investments that support their identity. Communities that are losing out are those that have identities or slogans that do not match their appearance.  There would be nothing worse than to be City X with a slogan, “A place you’ll love” that has broken sidewalks, overgrown parks and dilapidated buildings.  As the saying goes, if you can’t love yourself, you can’t expect anyone to love you!  And one final thought, whatever you do, absolutely do not make your slogan a “great place to live, work and play” as it’s overused, unspecific and the topic of this blog post.

Want to learn more about how we help small communities thrive?  Visit this page