Idea: Local Brands as Economic Development Facades

PALMETTO – Across the U.S., there is no shortage of run-down small and medium-sized towns that used to be far more prominent than they once were. Through most of the 20th century, these towns and small cities often had regional brands connected to them, the most prolific being agricultural produce brands.

In truth, brand differential was probably small with these produce brands, though today, with our newfound appreciation for heirloom vegetables, there was probably a lot more variety than we can even now imagine. And perhaps the quality was much more tasty than today.

Palmetto, Florida is one of those towns. It suffers from some poverty and a large contingent of migrant workers whose lives center around the tomato business there, though at one time it was a hub for oranges. Downtown Palmetto, beautifully situated on the Manatee River, is at once beautiful riverside houses and empty storefronts downtown.

A solution by one property owner? Take the old agricultural labels of the region, and use them as architectural elements on the facade of an old abandoned storefront. It does a few things, quite cheaply, above and beyond turning your crack-susceptible downtown into a, well, real Cracker Barrel.

  • First, it indicates to the whole city that this city once had a strong, local agricultural economy. That’s something every community wants now. While some might see this as a bit sad (good gosh it is gone!), the reality is that when old, positive history is retold, it reminds the current generation of what is still possible. The reality? That in the same place, small agricultural businesses once thrived, and they can again. Foodie heaven, we say. The original locavores.
  • Secondly, it turns a negative (an old, underutilized, non-descript storefront) into something that locals can feel pride in. It’s a bit of art and history, and its fun. Frankly, a church thrift shop, while worthy, is not exactly “highest and best use.”
  • Lastly, it helps actually revive the idea of local brands. After all, if all you have to do is print up some labels to sell a few crates of produce, anyone can do that.

Happily for little Palmetto, the Tropicana Train still runs through on the way to its Bradenton factory, and this year, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be coming to town, literally, as the company has purchased an old, abandoned Siemens factory in the town.

Very often, when buildings are abandoned, local “neighborhood organizer” type groups sometimes come in and paint murals and such, to help spruce things up. In truly bad situations, the buildings rot, or are painted by graffiti artists. But in this case, the town has turned a negative into a positive.

Question: if you were in economic development, and you were taking folks through town, would this would at least, for a second, make the guests forget that the town is in the dumps?

So, a question for you Chamber of Commerce types, and Economic Development directors. What are the dead agricultural brands in your town? Are there seafood brands? Meat brands? Seed brands? Petro brands? Retail brands?

What is your local history? What is your local economic situation? Do you understand it? Is there potential for the future? Do you even care?

Whatever it is, mine it.

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