Not sure if you can hear my own bouncing up and down through this podcast – my old friend Lara Fritts, the Executive Director of the Annapolis Economic Development Corporation, was kind enough to host me and a friend during a recent trip to see…. the best freakin concert of my life. I was still kind of giddy the next morning when I did this interview with her – should have taken some deep breaths and done some yoga before launching into it. :-)
Lara’s story focuses on a relatively young organization in an old and beautiful city, and follows a few dominant themes of late: maintaining focus on the issues that matter most in this moment, building capacity, and remembering that that which makes you unique, makes you valuable.
Here’s a couple of important things we can learn from Lara’s experience:
- A big piece of Annapolis’s success in lowering its retail vacancy rate stems from the fact that they tightly targeted their retail recruitment, rather than just chasing broad categories. They had a specific target list based on good data, and that meant that they could find and convince the business owners who had the best likelihood of succeeding, both today and for the long term.
- Although the Annapolis EDC did conventional retail recruitment such as the ICSC convention, they realized pretty quickly that their focus needed to be on the unique, the local or regional, the one-of-a-kind. Those kinds of businesses match better with their spaces and their customers. Most spaces in a place like Annapolis are likely to be an uncomfortable fit for a conventional format retailer, with rigid expectations regarding space, traffic, parking — even if they initially see stars in their eyes at the prospect of your charming, popular location. Annapolis has relatively few chain retailers and a lot of independents who can readily adapt to places and tastes. And I don’t think they are any the worse for it.
- A very large piece of the Annapolis EDC’s efforts right now revolve around building small business operational capacity – not just for the retail sector, as discussed in the interview, but the technology sector as well. The EDC (and the City) need robust small businesses that do not make bad decisions or fold in the face of challenges. Not all EDCs think that they should be in the education business, but this is probably one of the most critical services that an EDC with a large small business base can provide. And as Lara indicates, the trainings have the side effect of allowing more touches with local businesses than her small staff could ever do otherwise.
If you have an idea for an interview, please send me a note below. Thanks again to Lara for her time, her hospitality, (and her tolerance of my occasional excited squealing), and thanks to the Annapolis Economic Development Corporation for the great example they are setting for the rest of us.