By Gerald F. Schnepf
Executive Director, Keep Iowa Beautiful

Spring is close and thoughts of travel come to mind. At the local and regional level, as we move around the countryside with various vehicles, the odds are that travelers will pass through or visit your community in the near future. The opportunity provided to your hometown, is the increased ability to show off your community.

The challenge is to make sure that your community presents a good first impression to the traveler. That impression is expressed in two ways – first, in the visual image and appearance of the community and secondly by the kind of service that is provided to those travelers that do stop for visits to friends or relatives, vehicle needs, food or just to walk around and shop.

That first impression can make a significant difference in the future of your community. The person traveling today can be scout for corporate expansion, a business leader that is looking to grow their company, a spouse of a key individual in a company, a worker that has some influence in a business or with a friend that owns a corporation or someone simply looking for a new place to live.

There are a large number of stories of a traveler stopping in a small community for gas and having such a great experience that they end up investing in the community. While in the convenience store the traveler ends up in a conversation with the clerk. The clerk goes the extra mile to treat the person with respect and quality answers to the questions. The ultimate result is a year later that individual announced that he will build a new plant in the community. The original intent was to build in one of the southern states. It was the clerk’s hospitality and the visual high quality of the community that changed the mind of the business leader. This is a true story and it did happen in Iowa.

Another true story with totally different results also happened. The business investor met with an economic development specialist that took the individual on a tour of two communities. After completing the tour the economic development specialist asked the business investor which community he would like to develop his business in. The potential investor said – “Neither one – I don’t like what I saw in either community, they were not clean, facilities were not maintained and there were a number of public nuisances. This tells me that the citizens don’t take pride in their community and therefore, would tend not to take pride in their work. I will look elsewhere.”

Keeping your community clean and attractive as well as treating visitors with respect are experiences that may not always result in a new friend, resident or business – but, the question is can you afford not treat someone with courtesy or to have a clean and attractive community. By the way, those efforts provide another great value, an increased sense of pride to existing residents.