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Albany, Take the Wheel

By   /   January 13, 2012  /   Comments Off

Lon McNeil is an independent marketing consultant in Albany and can be reached at lonmcneil@gmail.com.



As a marketing consultant in Southwest Georgia, I get an opportunity to speak with a variety of local business owners and managers. Every situation has its own unique challenges and opportunities, but there are some shared experiences and concerns that taken as a whole can tell us a lot about our economy. What I’ve seen in the last few months is a desire to move forward, but reluctance to move now. Everyone says, “When the economy improves, we plan to (fill in the plan)…”. What everyone knows, but hesitates to say, is that we collectively, are the economy. Nobody wants to be first in the pool.

No, it has nothing to do with the Mayan calendar, although I have heard that thrown into the mix a time or two. The primary concern is government intrusion and tax policy. The effect that a nationally mandated health care program, “Obamacare” as it is called, will have on business, is the single largest issue. Unknowns kill investment. Changes in federal, state, or local policies can be difficult to monitor or understand. History as taught those that have been in business for years, that what the government says something is going to cost, and what it actually ends up costing, are two different numbers. New programs never come in under budget, and rarely at it. This concern is long-standing, will not go away anytime soon, if ever, and can only be dealt with at the ballot box. That’s a slow and frustrating process for a businessman trying to make payroll each month.

The second largest concern by Albany businesses I hear is the work force. Many local employers still complain about the availability of a good, customer friendly, reliable worker. This problem is in two parts. First is the undereducated, poorly trained in the most basic of social skills prospect that may have the desire to go to work, but just does not have the qualifications.  The second group is educated and more comfortable in their people skills, but thinks that the work out there is beneath them. The sense of “entitlement” is not exclusive to people receiving government support. In short; the work ethic of Albany’s work force on both ends of the economic ladder is self-defeating.

However, this does present a wonderful opportunity for change and improvement, not only in the lives of individuals looking for work, but also the community at large. As my father use to say, “When others are slacking off, not doing their best, and leaving the job undone, it’s easier to shine.” It’s true. Sadly, when you have a pleasant experience at a checkout counter here, because the employee is friendly, helpful, and good at their job, it stands out. It may actually be the highlight of your day.

One business owner I work with has gone through a number of customer service reps this last year, and he fully expects that revolving door to continue. “The bad employees will easily camp out here and do the bare minimum to keep their job, while the really good people find better opportunities and move on. It’s very frustrating, and takes up a lot of my time in hiring and training.”

The recent election that gave us Dorothy Hubbard as our first female mayor was a clear choice between a pure business approach to local government in businesswoman, B.J. Fletcher, and the more status quo approach with Hubbard. Many believe it was the fear of real change, and race politics combined, that dictated the outcome, yet most seem willing to give Hubbard a chance to lead Albany forward. That’s not surprising. It’s a practical business stance; to take the situation as you know it to be, and make the most out of it. It’s much better than dealing with an unknown.

What all this tells me is that you can crunch the numbers and run the P&L all day long, but ultimately what decide the fate of a business is the people involved. The owner has to set the proper expectations, and the employees must have a pro-growth approach to their job. By helping their boss be successful, they are helping their own future. The business must have the core belief in what they do, to step out and take manageable risks. Waiting for the economy to get better before we give our best effort, is ensuring that the economy will stay in the garage, waiting for someone to take the wheel. We are the economy.




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