Driving through a little town in Indiana one day, Andrew Davis, a big-ideas expert and global marketing keynote speaker, was greeted by an unexpected sign: “Welcome to Warsaw, Indiana, the orthopedic manufacturing capital of the world.” Stopped in his tracks, Andrew had to investigate:
“Can you really market a place as the “’blank’ capital of the world” and actually impact your economy and business and leave a legacy?”
After three years of research and investigation in collaboration with Northeastern University, he discovered a fascinating trend. Visionary business leaders all around the country were making these kinds of claims to the great benefit of both their businesses and local town economies.
Andrew calls these businesses Town Inc., and his latest book by the same title takes a deep dive into the benefits of setting up your company as a community beacon.
What is a Town Inc.?
Hamilton, Missouri is the quick-quilting capital of the world. You probably didn’t know that was even a “thing,” but the town of Hamilton has been prospering thanks to it.
It all started when a 60-year-old resident named Jenny Doan decided to turn her hometown into the “Disneyland of quilting.” Crazy as the idea may sound, her business, Missouri Star Quilt Company, now brings in revenue at the pace of $100 million a year, with up to 50,000 visitors from all over the world flocking to the otherwise-unknown city.
Jenny’s company is now the biggest employer in her county, providing career prospects to many young people who’d otherwise have long left their little town and moved to the nearest city. The company isn’t just “giving back” to its community. It’s building the community. A community that benefits Jenny’s business and all other local businesses as much as Jenny’s business is benefiting the community.
And that’s Town Inc. Or as Andrew puts it:
“Town Inc. is all about businesses that market the place they do business more than the business they do.”
A Town Inc. is a business that’s shaping and changing the towns and communities around it. This has benefited not only their own business but also other businesses and the community.
Building the vision of a Town Inc.
Skeptics would have you believe that there are absolutely no benefits to setting up a Town Inc. and laying claim to your town and your niche’s home territory. They’d even warn you that you’re inviting competition into your turf.
But these are the same people who’d have you believe that employees should be kept on a tight leash to remain productive—an idea that the modern business world of startups and remote companies has well repudiated.
Think about this way: if every employee in your business is empowered, then the leader will benefit. Expanding that idea out from employees to businesses, it makes sense that when every business has access to a better talent pool, everyone benefits.
More importantly, these businesses give a true sense of pride, meaning, and belonging in the towns and communities in which they operate. And that’s simply priceless.
Through his research and countless interviews, Andrew has discovered the three key elements that leaders pay great attention to when setting up these businesses:
- Creating location envy to bring in other businesses in their niche. Why do all the tech companies want to be in Silicon Valley? Because that’s where industry giants like Google and Facebook and, much earlier on, Intel and Apple, set up offices and became successful. That’s where the tech revolution happens and where anyone who wants to be a part of it wants to go. That’s location envy.
- Making sure they have the highest-caliber talent available in their towns. Usually, we think that talent goes where the work is, but what happens when you bring all the talent in first? Businesses follow the talent.
- Staking a strong claim in their particular niche. The towns and businesses may not be for all businesses, but the key is to attract the right businesses that will help you and the community flourish.And those who don’t succeed? They fall prey to the greatest misstep of all: Watering their vision down by trying to get consensus.
In this episode of Org Uncharted, Andrew talks to us about all the businesses he’s met and takes us deep into all the details of setting up a Town Inc. following the three key elements—and avoiding that one lethal pitfall.
Click play to hear his tips and research, and don’t forget to subscribe to Org Uncharted on your favorite podcast player for more insightful conversation with innovative business leaders of all walks and stripes.