Success is something with many levels and various ways in which it’s measured. Among the most-elusive is long-term success: steady, definable prosperity and growth achieved over years, decades – hopefully generations.
Not many entities reach that level of success. People are fortunate when they’re able to be part of such an operation. That kind of enduring success needs innovation, planning, discipline, a balance of risk and patience, and a sharp, unwavering eye towards the future. It requires good people to develop and carry out a defined vision – people who need the support of the decision makers they work for.
So where does the economic evolution of Downtown Traverse City rate on the success meter? Rebuilding the city’s commercial core from its low point in the 1980s, after several major retailers moved out, was no easy task. It called for innovative thinking, new ways of utilizing public resources, and trail-blazing partnerships between the private and public sectors. It required community planning and discussion, and the discipline to stick to those plans while also being flexible to what the private sector was willing to invest.
The results? Nothing short of astonishing as the community has reinvented its commercial core into one of the top destinations in the Midwest. It’s almost become a victim of its own success given those who view the downtown solely in a snapshot of its current vitality, rather than in a historic context spanning some challenging times that were difficult to overcome.
Gaining success and sustaining it, however, are quite different things. How the community moves forward in the coming months and years will go a long way in determining just how sustainable its economic prosperity will be.
Even the best-run entities often encounter directors or shareholders with different outlooks and interests on how to deal with success. Some might want to put more resources toward areas like personnel, or propping up another division of the operation, over reinvesting in the enterprise. Others might be satisfied with modest returns on investment, or place a priority on protecting wealth. Others still might see a better way of doing things based on their experiences elsewhere. Some might not be concerned with long-term success at all.
All those options and opinions can create some pretty formidable obstacles in transitioning short-term success into long-range achievement. The landscape is littered with businesses – and communities – that generated varying levels of success but over time evolved into shells or skeletons of their former selves. Their hard-earned gains unraveled in amazingly short order through the various pitfalls of prosperity: short-sightedness (even arrogance) that their product or service will always be in demand; overreliance on existing customers and demographics while ignoring future trends and opportunities; and diverting resources away from long-term investment to more-immediate needs and priorities.
There’s no shortage of options – or opinions – on what’s best for our region going forward. But I’ll put my stock in the people and ideas that helped shape the prosperity we all enjoy today. The Traverse City area was fortunate to have forward-thinking individuals in leadership roles willing to take risk and pursue new ideas and partnerships to bolster our economic fortunes and put our area on the road to success. That accomplished, leaders need to do their best to stay on task and ensure our economic achievements aren’t fleeting or confined to a certain strata of the community. We need to aim higher than simply preserving the here and now, to ensure our community’s continued success for generations to come.