What are the Alpena area’s SWOTs?

A SWOT Analysis is a tool used to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of an organization or program. Once identified, the goal is then to create a plan to improve by growing the strengths, improving or addressing weaknesses, embracing opportunities, and eliminating — or, at a minimum, keeping at bay — the threats.

While attending a recent event of the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance, we heard from a panel of economic development professionals from across the NMCA footprint (northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula). One of the questions the panel was asked was to conduct a brief SWOT Analysis about their respective area as it related to economic development.

Below is a summary of the combined responses offered by the panel.

Strengths: The people – their work ethic, support, positive attitude, desire to grow. Natural resources. Quality of life.

Weaknesses: The people – an outdated mentality, fear of action, change, and failure, support of stagnation. Infrastructure needs.

Opportunities: The biggest opportunities lie within the people. Natural resources. Quality of life. Northern Michigan legislators in leadership positions.

Threats: The people – the negative attitudes and lack of personal responsibility to invest into and support their own community. Resource competition.

Do you notice the same thing I noticed? There was one thing that was consistently mentioned as a strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat. The people.

When it comes to economic development, there are certain things that we can control. We can control how many contacts we make with developers, businesses, and commercial real estate companies. We can control what incentives we choose to offer. We can choose what grants or programs we utilize. We can control and choose what business sectors we approach.

One thing that makes a significant impact on the success or failure of economic development but that we cannot control is the people. If people can be strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats when it comes to economic development, but we cannot control what people choose to do, it is important, then, that people understand what they want for their community, and then understand which of those categories they fall into.

We can do everything we can to influence someone and encourage them to move from a threat to a strength, or to grow their ideas to create opportunity. But, ultimately, it is up to each person to decide what role they want to play.

Here is an exercise. Look at the four options with an economic development lens. Do you know where you land, currently?

If you are a strength to economic development, then you are actively supportive of economic development. Maybe you add your own economic development to the region through business growth and positive employment at your organization. If you are a weakness, then you are not contributing actively to economic development. You are not purposely undermining efforts, but you are not actively adding value to efforts. If you exist in the opportunity category, then you hold on to an idea or have potential that would add value – it just needs to be tapped into. You have a business that could expand, an idea that could be grown into a thriving business, a network of friends and family that you could encourage to support economic development through positive, constructive language or financial resources. If you are a threat, then you are actively working against economic development. Maybe you are spreading gossip or lies (purposeful or through naivete) about economic development. Maybe you are a business choosing not to financially support economic development and letting others subsidize it for you while you still receive the benefit.

Can you identify which one you are?

The goal, then, is to move yourself toward becoming a strength. Only you can do that. We will continue to control the things we can control and encourage people to become strengths and partners of economic development, but ,ultimately, it is up to you to decide what role you are going to play.

When people appear as often as they did in the SWOT analysis, it is clear that shifting more people to strengths would make a difference in the success of economic development. People hold the power to make decisions to improve their own situations, change their attitudes, and expand their minds, and, when they do, they help improve the community, becoming a strength instead of a threat to community health and vibrancy.

Jackie Krawczak is president/CEO of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs biweekly on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.