OPINION: Does your community have a poverty mindset?

Jim Rohn once said, "Your life does not get better by chance; it gets better by change."

Most agree there are several potential pathways a community, downtown district, or business might take as it embarks on a successful transformation or revitalization effort. It certainly isn't a one-size-fits-all journey. Every community or downtown district has its unique obstacles to overcome and its own mountains to climb. It must identify those issues and mountains, tackling them in such a way that fits its unique abilities, capabilities and expertise.

One of the largest mountains to climb for many communities or downtown districts is the term I have coined referred to as the "poverty mindset." Yes, many communities and downtowns need to overcome the economic issues of social or demographic poverty, but that is not what the poverty mindset refers to in this context.

Poverty mindset, as it relates to this column, refers to the mindset of those who are actually in a position to make transformation and revitalization happen. Despite being in this position, they are stuck in a poverty mindset brought on through their long-term battle and association with poverty, experienced through community decay.

I recently worked with a business that wouldn't accept credit cards because they cost a few percentage points per transaction. When convinced to give it a try, the business owners were thrilled when their business increased nearly 30%. Trying to save those few pennies cost them hundreds or even thousands in potential business revenue. These same problems and mindsets exist on an even greater and more devastating scale in city governments and civic leaders who control the future and financial destiny of the community and downtown. They have been taught that the safest route is to do little, especially when it can go wrong in some way.

Make no mistake; this poverty mindset is an easy mindset to have. As they watch the decay of a community, downtown or businesses accelerate around them, it is easy to believe decay is normal and to be expected. After all, they have numerous examples of decay happening in hundreds or even thousands of towns across the country.

How does a community, downtown or business overcome a poverty mindset and begin transforming? What is the common ingredient successful communities and downtown districts have adopted that flows through all their transformation and revitalization efforts? The answer is very simple. The common ingredient is found by simply looking at what might be the opposite of a poverty mindset. That common ingredient is something we all seek and are drawn towards, that is a positive "can-do" and "will-do" attitude.

The first step in any transformation and revitalization of a community or downtown district is a strong vision, coupled with a very healthy dose of optimism. When you couple a strong vision with genuine optimism, many communities and downtown obstacles can be overcomers. The poverty-mindset crowd must be converted, or rendered irrelevant if not converted, and this must be done quickly. Vision and a positive can-do attitude are infectious. Everyone wants to be associated with a winner; few wish to claim to be a member of the losing team.

Yes, the vision must be realistic. Yes, the optimism must be based on that realistic vision. Far too many communities or downtowns fail to understand just how much ability they already have to succeed. Never underestimate the ability of the residents of a community and business owners to do outstanding things. Many communities and downtowns are wallowing in self-pity while others, across the country, are undergoing incredible and sustainable transformation.

Oftentimes, those biggest obstacles are our own citizens and those in a position to enact the greatest change. The greatest task is converting them to the vision and the dream. Of course, you have quite a bit to lose. No change usually just means more of the same decay and demise of your downtown and community.

As you might have determined, this column is short on actual specifics and long on mindsets and attitudes. That is by design. Without vision, you perish. It is a vision and positive attitude that must be present to win. I have seen few, if any, communities or downtown districts succeed without having this strong will to win and succeed. The time is now for change; we must change or be rendered inadequate in the world that is transforming around us.

John Newby is a nationally-recognized columnist, speaker and publisher. He consults with chambers, communities, businesses and media. His "Building Main Street, not Wall Street" column appears in 60-plus newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at J[email protected]. Opinions expressed are those of the author.