What Would an Innovative Community Look Like?

For twenty-five years, I’ve thought about innovative states. For the past five years, I’ve also thought about innovative companies through the Innovation EngineeringTM discipline. Recently, I’ve started to think about innovative communities, and what would that look like.

We have thirty Main Street Maine communities in the state where with funding from the National Center for Historic Preservation, historic downtowns have been rehabbed and revitalized.

But it takes more than nice facades and brick sidewalks to make a vibrant community. Among other things, it takes thriving local businesses. And, what makes a business thrive more than innovation. After all, if a local business is meaningfully unique, people will drive from far away to shop there. If a local business is meaningfully unique, it’s likely to have higher revenues and profits, and more likely to stay in business. Nothing kills a downtown faster than vacant storefronts.

Existing business assistance programs geared toward downtown businesses do a good job teaching business basics, like accounting, and HR, and social media marketing. But they don’t address the key opportunity – what is the business concept that is meaningfully unique?

There’s a women’s clothing store that I always go to that’s a 30-minute drive, but they have stylish clothes for women my age (and size!) and it’s attractively displayed by color. It’s a meaningfully unique concept. There’s a pottery that I’ve been going to for probably 20 years; it’s meaningfully unique because of the design of its products. There’s a coffee shop in Brunswick that I love because of the atmosphere, and it’s definitely not a national chain – it’s meaningfully unique.

The opportunity we have is to teach Innovation EngineeringTM to Main Street businesses, to help them have a system for innovation that they can adopt and use, so that they can stay ahead of the competition, and contribute to the vibrancy of their communities.

Next Time: The Role of Municipal Broadband

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