Engaged neighborhoods can attract business – A Richmond, VA Success

This entry was contributed by on November 20th, 2015 at 2:51 pm and is filed under , , , , .
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In the summer of 2014, San Diego-based Stone Brewing Company sought to find a site to open an east coast production and distribution facility. Stone targeted a few cities in Virginia, Richmond being one, as possible locations.

The City of Richmond Economic Development Office, city officials, local politicians and many others worked to lure Stone Brewing to one of the two Richmond locations in which the company had shown an interest.

But it was neighborhood residents who caught the attention of Stone’s team, and who ultimately impacted the company’s decision.

The Greater Fulton neighborhood, located on the East End of Richmond, is not perhaps one of the most well-known neighborhoods in town, nor is it one of the wealthiest or busiest. But it is one of the most community-driven neighborhoods in the city. The residents in Greater Fulton care what happens in their neighborhood, and they make change happen.

I was first introduced to the residents of Greater Fulton in 2010, through my role as executive director of Virginia Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a local office of a national community development nonprofit dedicated to helping neighbors build strong communities.

We helped Greater Fulton residents create a vision for the neighborhood. Through the process, the once vibrant neighborhood–devastated by urban renewal activities in the 1970’s and the flight to the suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s–found its collective voice.

Together we identified wanted changes and developed strategies to address the lack of transportation and health care access and the distressed business corridor.

We developed a plan and established work teams of residents and community partners. Greater Fulton residents began to be heard in City Hall, resulting in improvements to their streets, sidewalks and lighting.

Resident-led business attraction strategies brought three new businesses to the corridor. And a new bus rapid transit line being discussed regionally was proposed with a stop near the neighborhood.

Then along came the possibility of Stone Brewery and with it, 200 production and technical jobs. As word spread that a site in Greater Fulton was a finalist, resident angst and excitement bubbled. The city and state economic development departments worked on monetary, tax and other incentives.

However, neighborhood resident input was not solicited.

Feeling that this was their neighborhood, the now close-knit community called meetings to discuss and consider the brewery operations. Residents formed a task force to speak on behalf of the neighborhood and reach out to Stone Brewery’s leadership team. The task force included civic association leaders, business owners and community stakeholders. They wanted to both have their questions answered and find a way to get Stone’s attention by being “welcoming.”

Competition for manufacturing and production facilities in urban areas is keen. Through social media and local beer aficionados, Richmond discovered that the other two cities in the running were hosting block parties and beer fests to attract this major craft brewing company.

But that was not Greater Fulton’s style. Engaging a well-known neighborhood artist to design and direct their work, 50 residents created a 40-foot frothy beer mug out of hay and stone on the very site under consideration, citing the hashtag #STONE2RVA, popular with local beer enthusiasts. An aerial photographer and local news crews captured the moment from a drone.

Residents also produced a short video, welcoming Stone Brewery and describing their affection for their neighborhood. Both the news footage and the video were brought to the attention of Stone Brewery executives who posted it to their website.

Four days later during a visit to meet with Richmond City officials, Stone Brewery executives met with the neighborhood. And as they say, the rest is history.

Greater Fulton’s neighborhood voice was the final incentive in attracting a job-generating company to Richmond.

The company and the neighborhood continue to meet, and together, they have established a Stone Advisory Council, setting the stage for future dialogue with a new corporate neighbor.

5 Responses to “Engaged neighborhoods can attract business – A Richmond, VA Success”

  1. Melody Warnick

    Candice, this is such a great story! I love the idea of a group of neighbors actively recruiting a new business. Does this happen elsewhere? I’ve never heard of residents taking such a strong role in business development.

    Reply
  2. John Stephens

    Candice – this is inspiring. It is a great example of a community coming together to effect economic development in ways important to neighborhood needs and preservation.

    Did you and LISC have similar previous work to draw on to help Greater Fulton? Or was this a pretty new area for how you support/empower neighborhoods?

    How important was and is social media? I like you citing #STONE2RVA as a way the neighborhood did outreach to local beer enthusiasts. I am always cautious about assuming that social media reaches “everyone” – I think it is too easy to overlook people of limited means and skills for I-phone or computer access.

    Finally, if possible, can you please add the link for the short video, welcoming Stone Brewery to the neighborhood? Thanks.

    Reply
  3. Juliellen Sarver

    Thank you, Candice, for writing about this incredible process in our community. John Stephens, Virginia LISC was engaged in the community for several years through the Greater Fulton’s Future initiative. That process set the stage for the collective community response to Stone Brewing Co.’s interest in the neighborhood. Social media was (and is) not the primary form of communication, although it is important to include the younger residents through social media as well as the older residents through personal contact. People are missed if social media is the only means of communication, and others are missed if social media is ignored. A balance is required to reach the widest range of community members.

    Among other local initiatives, Stone Brewing Co. and the community formed a joint advisory council that meets monthly and has developed a list of community priorities to guide future investment in the community by private and public entities. Issues and ideas are addressed and shared. The process has been a positive and collaborative one on all sides.

    For the record, I am an 8- year resident of the Greater Fulton community, former president of the civic association, and have been involved in the community since I moved here. I am fortunate to have been hired by Stone Brewing Co. to facilitate continued collaboration through the construction process and into operations.

    I believe strongly that economic and community development can be a positive and collaborative experience and that communities, for-profit companies, non-profit organizations and local government can work together for everyone’s benefit. Our experience could certainly be a model for development inutiatives in other communities.

    Reply
  4. John Stephens

    Juliellen: Thanks for the response to my questions. Corey – thanks for the link to the video celebrating the news that Stone Co. Brewery will build in Greater Fulton.

    All: Two short thoughts for now –

    1. It takes a strong-knit community, with a lot of personal and organizational assets, to do this kind of business outreach. There can be many contrasting, even competing, ideas and needs for a community such that it may be hard for most neighborhoods to speak with one voice on a major business opportunity. As you put it Juliellen, the several years of community work with LISC was a key part of for being able to do the outreach.

    So, do you think there are many other Richmond neighborhoods who have the similar pre-conditions, or is this fairly unusual?

    2. A potential challenge is the nitty-gritty steps of hiring employees, the traffic and noise from the brewery and other specific impacts (desired and otherwise). I’ll try to ask for an update from you, Candice or others in about 8 months to see how things are, particularly as the joint advisory council settles in.

    One final thought, after seeing the art, music and strong community spirit shown in the video https://youtu.be/1mGFDfuXcYw – this is similar to a recent post, “Turn to the Creative Conquerors” http://cele.sog.unc.edu/turn-to-the-creative-conquerors/ I urge folks to read that view about neighborhoods, volunteer work, and creativity.

    Reply

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