Archive for the ‘City Marketing’ Category

grumpycatI get tired of people complaining about Amsterdam, you probably know that by now. But I also get tired of people complaining about people who complain about Amsterdam. This idea that there is “something in the water” here in or that we have such a great city except for all the ignorant people living in it, I feel is almost as counter productive as those who just harp on the city’s problems directly.

I’m afraid that too much complaining about the complainers can generate the same sense of negativity and hopelessness as the complainers themselves. So to counter this idea that somehow Amsterdam is some kind of “problem child” because it has a small but vocal group of grumpies, I offer proof from four area cities that there is just as much grumpiness and self loathing going on out there are there is here.

 

#4 Albany

I first learned the term “smallbany” from reading the ultra-hip Metroland weekly newspaper back when I worked at a music store on Central Ave in Albany. Capital cities are an elite club – there are only 50 of them in the US. When you look at Albany in comparison to some other capital cities or to the “Big City”, it seems to come up a little short in the size and culture department. It seems over time, Albany residents have noticed this and come up with the term as an expression of their displeasure.

The phrase has become such a fixture in local vocabulary that it has earned an entry into the Urban Dictionary (not that you have to do much to earn an entry, but anyway…)

smalbany
The capital of NY. So named because of its diminutive size, especially compared to New York City.

Mark: Hey, you want to head to x-gates? 
Tom: Smalbany, that’s ghetto!

Smallbany
A pejorative nickname for the capital of New York State, Albany. So called because of its diminutive size, especially compared to New York City. This spelling is preferred over smalbany, since it preserves the rhyme with ‘small’ and avoids the pronunciation AL-bany (which is, as far as most New Yorker’s are concerned, a city in southern Georgia).

“So, you’re from upstate? Where? Syracuse? Buffalo?”
“Ha, I wish! Nah, I grew up in Smallbany, where the only thing to do at night is drive to another city.”

So Smalbany/Smallbany is a real thing. There is at least one angry blog that capitalizes on the phrase.

However, I think it’s nice that if you google for the phrase, mostly it is used in the context of someone saying “I know people call it “Smalbany” but…” and then go into why they like living in Albany.

But I don’t want to spend too much time on the positives, on with the negatives!

#3 Schenectady

There was a Buzzfeed post titled “Things People from Upstate NY Love”  that made it’s way around Facebook a while back.  Coming in at #25 was “Hating on Schenectady”.

It’s not hard to find negative opinions of Schenectady. Some of my (least) favorites include this post in which people seriously think that Schenectady is on the verge of declaring martial law.

I also get a kick out of this thread where people take turns slagging on how bad Schenectady is and then when one person tries to defend the place, they get back…

“You work in the Marketing Department of the City of Schenectady, don’t you?”

Oh the dreaded “M” word!

Then you have this sincere blog written by someone experiencing buyer’s remorse in Schenectady. It seems the person has already decided to move out (or maybe not), and has started a blog about his angst over the decision. He asks readers to “keep me in Schenectady”.  It’s actually got some good pros and cons about living in the city, if you can get past the somewhat self-entitled theme.

#2  Troy

I found a treasure trove of negativity  on this Troy Record Blog called Talespin

Apparently the author has been recently suspended by the paper due to criminal allegations, however it still provides a peek into the mindset of some area residents. Some of my  (least) favorite comments include…

Troy has become the wild west .. Shooting up on the east side, as a kid there wasn’t A shooting in south Troy now it’s become the wild west although it’s not politically correct to say why these shooting and neighborhoods are destroyed we all know why land lords rent to anyone and the projects are shut down and our neighborhoods took in the undesirable,, welcome mats for the Bronx and ST JOSEPHS houses popping up on every block, we even allow persistence felons to spit in our former mayors face welcome to Troy …

And

…what is important is this city is becoming a zoo with the animals were getting from albany and the Bronx ,,public housing and sec #8 is booming in our city which is causing crime and the deterioration of the city,,WE HAVE NO MIDLE CLASS just a bunch of thugs living off the tax payers with there 6 children WAKE UP CITY COUNCIL and do something about this…

Gee, where have we heard all that before? Both of these quotes sound like they come from the same person, but you get the point!

#1 Saratoga Springs

Yes folks, the crown jewel of the capital district, the wonderful low tax rate city we all aspire to live in has it’s detractors as well.

A word of warning – although these next two sites currently come up on the first page when googling “Saratoga NY blogs”, they both contain explicit language and images. Way to stay classy Saratoga!

This blog entitled “Saratoga Springs – Home of the Wretched” makes our complainers look like amateurs. According to this blog, Saratoga has a “crime problem” that the police force is covering up, taxes are too high, and political corruption runs amok. Gee, where have we heard this before?

In all fairness, this blog called “Idiots Being Idiots” is in fact “positive” on Saratoga, they authors say they pick on it because they love it. But I have to shake my head at one of the “problems” they cite…

Is there some f#$%@ing business code out there that states you must have live music all the f#$%@ing time?  Why can’t I just go into an establishment for a drink or food without having to be subjected to someone hacking away on their guitar?

Oh to have Saratoga’s problems!

Or this complaint about a popular restaurant closing and then re-opening somewhere not in Saratoga…

Well that sadness is all over because Beverly’s is back.  The only issue is it’s not in Saratoga Springs, the new restaurant can be found at 256 Milton Ave, Ballston Spa, NY, which is Ballston Spa’s win and our loss.  But still, I’m sure it’s worth the 15 minute drive into the b***hole of Upstate NY.

And I thought Amsterdam had that distinction! I’m happy to pass it on to someone else.

So I hope all these examples leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. I know after reading them, I have a downright warm fuzzy feeling when I think of our local grumpy characters and I hope you do too!

So I’m getting a deluge of internet traffic to my completely off the wall joke post about “Leave Aid” (thanks a bunch Times Union!) So I figured while I have a few eyes from around the Capital District, that I’d make a serious plug for what I consider to be one of Amsterdam’s most marketable assets – it’s abundance of affordable office space.

If you are a small business struggling with high rental costs for your office space, I would recommend you check out what the Walter Elwood Museum has available now that they have taken ownership of the old Noteworthy building at 100 Church St.

There are dozens of different sized rooms available for rent at $7/sq ft (one year lease) which includes heat and electricity.  Non-profit organizations get $5/sq ft.  So potentially, you could get into a small space somewhere around the $200/month range. They also have tons of storage and warehouse space as well. You can get a few more details here on their Craigslist ad, but please call (518) 843-5151 for more information.

These are decent, clean rooms in a well maintained old brick building. I would say they are perfect for any type of IT based or consulting business or for artist or photography studios or non-profit organization offices. Although Church street has a high volume of traffic,  I don’t think they are especially suited for a retail storefront. Internet connectivity is not included, but both Time Warner or Verizon broadband services are available in the building.

I just moved my own web design business into a space here two months ago. I had previously rented space from the Noteworthy company a few years ago, and I was pleased to be able to move back. Director Ann Peconie was extremely helpful in getting me situated in my new space. I have clients who visit my office occasionally, and when they do, they have no problem finding my office, and the entrance way is very nice, with several exhibits from the museum on display.  I know my clients will get a good first impression of my business when they visit! Including my own business, there are already several other offices moved in, including the Montgomery County Literacy Project.

I also want to mention that just down the road, you have the Sanford Clock Tower which also offers plenty of affordable space and can also build customized offices.

There are several other places in Amsterdam with good space as well, but these two buildings, within a few minutes walking distance of each other, offer an extraordinary value for affordable office space. And in my experience, both owners are highly motivated to get tenants in. I think there is great potential in this section of the city to become a magnet for technology or digital arts based businesses. Any small business considering their rental options would do well to check these buildings out!

Amsterdam County NYIt’s not such a silly idea if you think about it. Does a county define its cities or do cities define their county?

What spurred me to start thinking about this question recently was a survey sent to me from the Montgomery County Business Development Center. The survey’s noble goal was to find a strong, unified marketing message for the entire county.  As I began to think about the positive aspects of the county, I started thinking about the City of Amsterdam, and the various towns and villages. I began to think how each area of the county has it’s own characteristics, history and culture. For me, coming up with one single message to capture the identity of Montgomery County is impossible unless it’s completely watered down like…

Do business with Montgomery County – we’re mostly along the Mohawk River!

To me the true identity of Montgomery County is comprised of the identities of its city, towns and villages. Cultural identities begin within communities where people decide to join together to live, work and recreate. It’s within these population centers that the marketable characteristics start to take shape.

The borders of Montgomery County, quite frankly, don’t mean much, they are just arbitrary boundaries drawn for administrative and tax purposes. So in short, I believe the best marketing strategy for the county is to highlight the diversity of its communities, which doesn’t really lend itself to single slogan or catch-phrase.

But you’re probably still wondering why I’m suggesting calling the county, “Amsterdam” right? Well in my opinion, it’s the Amsterdam region that has the best shot at actually defining the identity of the region in a way that attracts new businesses to the county – which is the ultimate goal of the MCBDC. In my estimation, between the City of Amsterdam and the Town of Amsterdam, the area leads the county in terms of economic activity, population and culture.

And I believe that it’s the City out of any other place in the county, that  has the best chance of actually attracting high-tech start-up companies and entrepreneurs, due to it’s abundance of low-cost office and warehouse space, low-cost housing and fledgling arts community. It’s proximity to Saratoga’s Global Foundries and Albany’s TechValley initiatives are also factors.

If you look around at our neighboring counties such as Schenectady, Saratoga and Albany, it’s easy to see that successful cities have defined the counties that bear their namesake, rather than the other way around. Just take a look at the Schenectady County Chamber of Commerce’s  “elevator pitch”…

Few areas of the country offer better lifestyles than Schenectady County. Our thriving downtown is a center for the arts and home to legendary Proctors Theatre. Just minutes from New York’s Capital in Albany, the majestic Adirondack Mountains and Saratoga Springs, Schenectady County boasts a diversity of culture and lifestyle, superior educational institutions and an array of shopping, dining and entertainment for all!

As you can see, their marketing is entirely dependent on the identity of the City of Schenectady. Similarly, if you search for info about Saratoga, you will find that the culture of Saratoga Springs dominates the marketing message for the area.

Concentrating marketing efforts on one section of a county does not necessarily leave the rest of the county out in the cold. In both Saratoga and Schenectady Counties, many of the surrounding towns and villages such as Ballston Spa or Scotia/Glenville, benefit from their proximity to the cities. Such could be the case in Montgomery County.

Now in all seriousness, I don’t think it’s probable that the county will change it’s name. However, I think it’s worth considering that the Amsterdam area should be the “flag-ship” so to speak of a county-wide marketing campaign. One example of this would be Oneida County’s effort, which uses “Utica, Rome, Verona and Slyvan Beach” as their main marketing tag line and focus.

While some might criticize this idea as showing favoritism, to me it’s simply a matter of putting our limited resources into investments that have the best chance of paying off, for the common good of the entire county. The Amsterdam area is the county’s money beets.  It’s just good marketing and good marketing leads to good business.

Let Me Put It Another Way

Posted: December 23, 2011 in City Marketing
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This is the way I see the perceptions of Amsterdam being handled by various persons.
There are no direct quotes here, just my perceptions and paraphrasing:

News Story: Amsterdam Downtown Mixer A Success
Recorder: Print it
Fox: Where’s Amsterdam again?
YNN: Ho hum

News Story: Trade Center Pillar Arrives in Amsterdam
Recorder: Print it
WNYT: Pass
WTEN: European News?

News Story: Man Drops Pants in Target Parking Lot in Amsterdam
Recorder: Print it
Fox: Juicy!
WRGB: Shocking! We’ll run  it.

News Story: Riverlink Park in Amsterdam hit by Vandals
Recorder: Print it
YNN: So sad, we’ll run it!
WNYT: Details at eleven!

Real Estate agent: There’s a beautiful house available in Amsterdam for a great price
Prospective home buyer: I’ve heard Amsterdam is a crime-ridden dump
Real Estate agent: I really don’t know much about Amsterdam
Prospective home buyer: What else do you have?

Mayor Thane: Amsterdam is a great place to live with many aspects that would be attractive to businesses and homebuyers. Let’s develop a marketing strategy that promotes the positive aspects of Amsterdam to the rest of the region

Recorder EDITORIAL  1/18/09:  All the roads in Amsterdam need to be fixed first, only then can we market the city
Recorder EDITORIAL  2/15/09: The city is not enticing to anyone. Put the marketing plan on hold until we can offer more
Recorder EDITORIAL 1/21/10:  Even if you get someone to visit Amsterdam, they’ll run away once they see it.
Recorder EDITORIAL  4/25/10:  It’s not the Mayor’s job to market the city, it’s not what she was elected to do
Recorder EDITORIAL  9/5/10: The county should market the city, not the city.

Me (who just bought a home in the city this year): ?????????!!!!!!??????!!!!!!!!!

Hope that clears things up!

Good News, Bad News

Posted: December 21, 2011 in City Marketing
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I thought it was ironic that last week we saw a string of crime-related stories come out at the same time as we were discussing the role of the local media in shaping Amsterdam’s perception of itself. The bad news started with vandalism in the Riverlink Park, then attempted robbery of a pizza delivery person, a stabbing, hate-filled graffiti, and finally a guy at Target exposing himself in public. This was not the greatest week for Amsterdam from a news perspective!

Now I am absolutely not going criticize the local media for their coverage, even when these types of stories, without fail, generate demoralizing comments such as the one left on the Recorder’s Facebook page that reads:

I think The Recorder generally does a fair job of covering both positive and negative events in Amsterdam. But what I do want to point out is that these stories pretty much all got picked up by Capital Region television news stations and the Times Union – media outlets that rarely, if ever, put out positive stories about Amsterdam. This example leaves no doubt: shocking and negative news spreads quickly and easily. Positive news, however, seems to take some work.

So it’s with this point in mind that I want to expand on the assertion I made in the previous post. I believe The Recorder contributes to a negative external and internal perception of Amsterdam because its editorial articles have consistently and vehemently opposed the idea of promoting a positive image of Amsterdam.  That is why I believe they deserve a place in the “weaknesses” area of the S.W.O.T. analysis. Here’s just a sampling of what I mean…

2/15/2009
Yes, the city is making progress, but has it made enough to be truly enticing?…Our advice to the mayor and Common Council is to put the implementation of the “Small City. Big Heart” marketing campaign on hold until we have more to offer visitors.

1/21/10
… we’re not sure the city is ready to be marketed…People intrigued by the marketing campaign still won’t buy a house here without checking the city out first. Right now, it’s like having friends over to check out your new big-screen TV, but you didn’t finish cleaning the house.

Being that neither the publisher of The Recorder, nor its editors currently reside in the city (yep, I’m bringing that up!), I’m willing to bet that none of them have taken a good look recently at the overall condition of the city’s neighborhoods. If they had, I think they would have come to a different conclusion. I’ve walked all over the city over the past few years, and there are plenty of great looking neighborhoods in the West End, upper Locust Ave area, Market Hill area, Henrietta Ave area, Church St/Rockton area, the South Side and others. These are areas with lots of well maintained housing that any middle class home buyer would be proud to own. The fact is that year after year, people do in fact (with no gun to their head) decide to start businesses or own a homes in Amsterdam.

But that message doesn’t get out there. The crime and profanity does. Mayor Thane has taken up the task of working to get the positive message out to prospective businesses and residents because no one else has. Why does The Recorder constantly speak out against this? (I counted at least 5 editorials in the space of 2 years.)  Is it because marketing the city runs counter to their pro-consolidation stance? Or might their stance be influenced by the bleak outlook of the print news industry?  Should we as a community take economic advice from an organization that stands a good chance of becoming extinct in 10 to 20 years?

If anyone doubts the importance of promoting a positive image, I would ask why corporations spend billions of dollars every year on advertising to make sure their products have a favorable image. The answer is simple: because they know it works. They wouldn’t spend the money if it didn’t.

The Recorder certainly does their fair share of reporting on the positive events and that is to be commended. But it’s obvious that the good news rarely gets picked up on it’s own by other news organizations in the region. If The Recorder truly believes in Amsterdam as a city, then the least it could do is stop trying to shoot down anyone working to get the positive news out. At best, they could decide to actively support the effort to market the city to potential residents and businesses, contributing to the effort to improve Amsterdam’s perception of itself and in the surrounding region, rather than working against it.

Marketing The City

Posted: May 12, 2010 in City Marketing
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One of the very first objectives the Comprehensive Plan suggests is marketing the city.
 

Improve Amsterdam’s Image and Identity in the Region
Market Amsterdam effectively to the Capital District region and beyond. Overcome negative perceptions and emphasize the community’s positive attributes, such as: nice neighborhoods, cultural diversity, beautiful parks, great-tasting and abundant water, excellent golf course, and its location as a gateway to the Adirondacks, Saratoga, and other regional destinations, etc. Align the City more closely with the Capital Region. (Page III-3) 

The subject of marketing came to a crossroads recently during city budget negotiations when the position of Mayor Anne Thane’s Confidential Aide (currently filled by Thom Georgia) was put on the chopping block.  According to Thane, eliminating his position would effectively end the work on the city marketing efforts.   

The Amsterdam Recorder ran this editorial , basically stating that 1) The Mayor’s office should not be handling marketing efforts, it should be done by other agencies and 2) the city isn’t ready to be marketed because there are too many problems that need to be fixed first. 

A contrasting view on the city marketing situation was written on the Sassafras Journal blog (posting under the name “Flippin”). He made a strong argument (in his signature sarcastic style of course) that there is no “magical point” at which we can begin to market Amsterdam.  The city has it’s problems but so does every city, there are still good selling points that can be capitalized on.   He restates his recurring point that many of the problems that need fixing in the city require capital that we just don’t have, so unless we start generating some new income, we’ll never get to fix those problems. 

After reading both these views I decided I had some things to say, but first I wanted to get a better idea about what the Mayor’s office has been working on. I had read that there were marketing materials that had been produced, but I could not find them online anyplace. I called the Mayor’s office about it, and they were very happy to provide me with the materials along with a number of other documents detailing the marketing strategy that was being worked on. Reviewing these materials, I was able to get a better sense of the direction the Mayor is going in. 

Now before I dive into some of the details of the marketing plan, I want to try to qualify myself somewhat to give readers an idea of where I am coming from.  I’ve learned a little bit about marketing over the years running my own business and being involved with the marketing efforts of other businesses.  I know that marketing is more than advertising. Marketing involves any methods used by a business to attract new customers as well as retain existing customers. I also know that successful marketing requires an objective assessment of a businesses strengths and weaknesses. A marketing strategy needs to play to the business’s strengths. If a business invests resources marketing in an area where they can’t compete, often that effort goes to waste. In other words, if you want to compete against a “Walmart”, you’d better have the ability and strength to really do it, otherwise you are wasting your time. Most succesful small to medium businesses don’t compete against the “Walmarts” in their market, they find a niche that they can realistically compete in and focus on that area. 

When I first started my business, I was a weak competitor at best. But what I did was leverage the resources I did have to work my way up.  I was focused on a certain segment of the market that was under-served and I built my client base from there.  The services I provided met or exceeded my customers expectations and as a result, positive word of mouth grew my business as much as any form of advertising I used.   

So I am whole heartedly in favor of marketing the city. I do believe we have enough positives that would  persuade people and businesses to move here (I’ll discuss those positives shortly). I certainly understand some people’s discomfort with the idea given the problems that we have with infrastructure, blighted neighborhoods and graffiti.  In fact, I would say that these problems are marketing issues themselves and need to be worked on with equal priority. For instance, regional media coverage of the fire hydrants problem could easily undermine even the best marketing strategy. That is one issue in particular that needs to be fixed now. But bear in mind that other capital district cities such as Schenectady, Albany and Troy are struggling with similar problems. In many cases, particularly in the area of infrastructure, its lack of capital that holds us back. I agree with Flippin’s take that unless we are able to start generating more revenue, our infrastructure problems are probably only going to get worse.  

In regards to the issue of whether the Mayor should be the one to lead the marketing campaign, I would argue that it is.  The Recorder editorial suggests several organizations to do the job – the Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency, the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. Flippin correctly points out that these organizations have their own goals and priorities. I believe that a multi-faceted marketing plan has to be coordinated from a single authority in order to be effective, and the only authority that is going to be able to do that and make Amsterdam it’s #1 priority is the Mayor’s office. However, all these organizations have a vested interest in seeing Amsterdam succeed, so it seems to me that it would still make sense to partner with and coordinate efforts with them.  I am concerned that I don’t see the Chamber more involved with the process. Also, I don’t see why AIDA  couldn’t be brought on board with the vision and then take on the job of marketing to new businesses. Isn’t that their job anyway?

Finally, I’d like to comment on some of the materials and documents I received from the Mayor’s Office.   According to Mayor Thane, her office has used the packets to directly solicit interest from individual developers & state representatives, at real estate trade shows, and will be used at upcoming promotional events with business & industry leaders. The first piece is an extra-large, full color brochure.

This picture shows the inside pages. Basically the marketing message hits three selling points that I think are right on the money. First, as small city, we are a more close-knit community which differentiates us from larger cities (welcoming). Second, we have a good central geographical location (accessible). Third, due to our low property values and abundance of commercial space, it costs less to buy a home or start a business than in surrounding areas (affordable).  These are solid strengths that Amsterdam has and I don’t think it’s ever the wrong time to promote them.

A set of four single sheet case studies profile successful Amsterdam businesses and include positive quotes from the owners.


This picture shows the front cover of the extra-large brochure on the left, and one of the case studies on the right. Other businesses profiled are Eastern Medical Support, Mohawk Lifts and River Ridge Living Center. The testimonials from the business owners make a strong impression.  

Also included in the packet are four single sheets that highlight the areas of education, economic development, tourism and culture, and quality of life. For the most part I think these sheets are good, they definitely show the best sides of Amsterdam. There are two areas, however, that concern me a bit. I’ll explain…

 
 
This is an excerpt from the “economic development” page. The text does a good job of highlighting the opportunities for businesses considering moving into the area. However the image is obviously an illustration of what our downtown could look like, not the way it actually is. Now the text starts off talking about the revitalization efforts, and I can see that the picture might fit into that context. However, the very first impression I think a person would get from this page would be that this is what downtown Amsterdam looks like, when of course, it does not.

This is the other image that gave me a little trouble. This is an actual picture of our downtown, but it’s closely cropped to give the distinct impression that the woman is walking down the street, checking out all the great shops and such.  Of course we all know that there are only a handful of shops open on that street, and if someone comes in expecting an experience like walking through downtown Saratoga, they will be very disappointed.

I don’t think it’s self-deprecating or anti-progressive to say that we are not ready to market our downtown. This is one area where I think the critics may have a point. Downtown is definitely not one of our strengths and this really is an area that needs a lot of work before it can become truly competitive.  Revitalizing our downtown is a key part of the Comprehensive Plan, but it clearly indicates a need for a sequential approach in this area.

But before the City is considered as a true bedroom community option, it must improve its urbanism. It cannot compete as a bedroom community for those who desire to live in the suburbs or in a rural environment. It must present itself as a vibrant, urban community with all of the benefits that a small city can possess. This will require that the City’s downtown be reestablished as the heart of Amsterdam, with a variety of uses and activities mixed together at a fine grain. (Page IV-12 – emphasis added)

Alternatively, what I would suggest is that for the “economic development” page, use a picture of one of the many fine business spaces that are available to move into. I would also include mention of the abundance of affordable small office space available in buildings such as the Riverfront Center, Noteworthy Business Center and the Clock Tower.

For the “tourism and culture” page, why not use a photo of one of our parks? The ball field at Shuttleworth Park would certainly make a good impression. And let’s be honest too, if I could pick one word to describe Amsterdam culture, I would choose “sports“.  Seriously, I think we may have more ball fields per capita than any surrounding city. Amsterdamians take their sports very seriously! That may seem a bit “proletariat” to some of our more “cultured” citizens, but so what? I would rather attract sports enthusiasts whose expectations will be met, than attract people looking for a Saratoga Springs atmosphere and feel let down.

Finally, coming back to the issue that prompted the discussion, the elimination of the Mayor’s Confidential Aide position. I’m honestly not sure whether it was the right move or not. If some of the work can be picked up by other staff members, and if other agencies can pick up the ball in certain areas, and if maybe other tasks could be done on a contract basis (maybe by Georgia?), then maybe it was the right decision in light of the budget shortfall. However, if the marketing effort does fall by the wayside because of it, then I think that will truly be a loss. Either way, I think the Mayor’s office would do well to get some of these marketing ideas out to the public so that people can get a picture of what is being worked on as well as provide feedback. Developing a sense of “buy in” from the general public takes extra effort, but I think if more people were on board with the idea, it don’t think it would have been such a quick decision to axe the position.

I know I’ve presented a lot here. Please take time to digest and then share your thoughts and impressions!