The power of positive thinking
What a difference a half a decade or so can make. This week, the hotel/motel tax sailed by in Storm Lake with a huge approval rating among voters. The very same idea got dumped flat by the same voters five years ago.
What made the difference? The approach, I suspect.
It wasn't a we're-desperate-for-money campaign. It was a we-can-make-a-great-town-even-greater kind of appeal. And it's not an accident that some of the money was promised for efforts to positively promote Storm Lake to the outside world.
I think people want a little of that positive, proactive spirit right now.
I would submit that the selling of Storm Lake will not be done in outside television and magazine marketing or even in travel bus tourism. To be truly effective, it has to start from the inside out.
Nobody promotes a town better than people who are happy to be living there.
Storm Lake isn't exactly a hard sell. Few cities could rival its natural rescources and beauty, with a vast natural lake and incredible parks at its doorstep. It has the culture of a city without the hassles of urban life. It has one of the most progressive private university campuses and well as a busy community college. It has lots of historical landmarks, lots of recreational resources, one of the state's best health care systems, high quality public and parochial school systems, tons of fun community celebrations, its own museums and art gallery, a thriving downtown shopping village, ambitious plans in the works for a community center/ aquatic center, a rich kaliedescope of ethnic cultures.
Storm Lake has been victimized by outside media time after time, maybe to the point where we started to believe in the image they were creating for us of crime and ehnic conflict. It doesn't have to be so. I'm proud of the progress, the projects and the people I've found in Storm Lake. While I wouldn't mind if someone figured a way to import a bit more tropical a climate here, I don't reget the decision to come here, or a moment of the time I've spent getting to know a lot of unique, talented and bighearted people here.
Did you notice how upbeat the election here was? While people were whining and slinging mud elsewhere across the state, I think every one of our local candidates ran a clean campaign filled with hope in the face of challenge. I think they knew, too, that people here are ready for an upbeat time.
Candidate Jim Osegaro said it pretty well and pretty often: "Promote the positives."
He said, "At a time when all of northwest Iowa is being less progressive and things seem to be economically soft, I think an attitude of positive direction is something that we need..."
Osegaro said he was tired of his town and his county "looking over the fence" at their so-called competitors. I think all of the candidates and most of the voters felt the same way.
All of the promotion in the world can't equal what we can do for free - telling the positive story of our community. Who knows it better than those of us who have chosen to make it our home?
Julie Carlson, this area's representative of the Iowa Economic Development Board, put it nicely.
"All Iowans must spread the message of our excellent education system, productive workforce and quality lifestyle and keep working to bring more people and jobs to the state," she said.
"We also have to keep in mind another challenge - the newest generation of workers is different than previous ones - they choose WHERE and HOW they wish to live first - and then find jobs to fit their lifestyles. This makes Iowa well positioned for a bright future in the 'knowledge economy.' With a population equal to that of Phoenix, we cannot afford to quibble on how to improve; just keep working together. If we speak out with one voice about the reasons we love our state and our tremendous quality of life, the rest of the world will notice and want to join us."
It is certainly true in Storm Lake. Sure, we need to convince the outside world of all the positive things our community has to offer. But first and most important, we need to convince ourselves. Don't expect promotion dollars to shape our community image for us; that's our job to do.