By TIM HORAN
Pointing everyone in the same direction was the goal of the Abilene economic development mission statement.
Abilene City Manager David Dillner unveiled a draft of an economic platform Thursday night at a meeting at the Visitors Center of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. The city invited everyone to its first summit to discuss and comment on the first daft of a statement. That draft is published on page 6. A second summit will be held in the fall.
“We want to set a plan that sets a framework for the next three to five years,” Dillner said. “It’s only about three pages long. The purpose of that is to not have a simplified document but to have actual items that we can report back to the public on progress. We don’t want to have a plan that we draft up with all kinds of color and then sit it on the shelf. This is an action plan for things that we can do now, for the next couple years to hopefully incite change in our local economy.”
Dillner said the draft started with the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce. The current chamber is without a director and the building on Buckeye is listed for sale. The Chamber is currently advertising for a new director.
“The Chamber’s transition to where they are today and where they are going to be in the future, is kind of a catalyst that brought this all about,” Dillner said. “Because they were in a period of change there was a question as to who was responsible for what and we want to figure out who is responsible for what.
“We wanted to, in essence, create a multifaceted approach where one entity wasn’t responsible for everything,” he added. “The benefit is that the Chamber has a direction where they want to go. The city and the county understand where they need to be. The ultimate question, how does the private sector respond?
“The city had a strategic plan for economic development. The chamber had a plan. Everybody had their own plan. Every plan, while they overlapped, was going in a different direction,” he said.
The economic development mission statement is to get everyone on the same path on a community-wide platform.
Groups, businesses and community leaders helped develop the plan, Dillner said.
“We want to continue our (city) role as a facilitator to bring the businesses and the public together so we can continue down this path to make Abilene a prosperous community,” he told the audience of about 30 people.
The City of Abilene’s mission with respect to economic development is to be proactive in growing and sustaining an environment that promotes a healthy and diverse business community. Dillner listed four goals.
1. Retain existing businesses and promote organic business growth within the community.
2. Recruit and grow new businesses.
3. Promote residential development in Abilene.
4. Collaborate with business partners to develop and grow events that draw visitors to the community.
No one in attendance commented on the daft. However, comments are solicited until 5 p.m. March 4. The plan will eventually be submitted to the Abilene City Commission and the Dickinson County Commission for approval, Dillner said.
Dillner also discussed a marketing campaign for the community that didn't involve dollars.
“It is extremely important to develop a personalized community marketing campaign that says Abilene is a place of choice to locate a business, to raise a family or visit on vacation,” he said. “Originally, we wanted to look at data and figure out how we could prove
to people that it was better to live in Abilene. What we found was that sometimes the data doesn’t necessarily tell why it’s better to live in Abilene. That is why ‘personalize’ is in this sentence.
“The best marketing tool that we have as Abilenians is not billboards or Facebook or any advertisement that we can take out with money. It is really word of mouth.
If we talk to our friends, our family, to folks that don’t live in town, if we can continue to talk up Abilene wherever we are, we will have a better return on our investment. Talk is free.
“If we continue to talk about Abilene, hopefully they will visit on vacation, hear more about Abilene and want to raise a family here and move here and then, you know what, ‘I’m ready to take a risk and open a business.’ When they do that, the process starts all over again.
He said some cities spend $50,000 to $75,000 on marketing.
“We could do that but may not have a good return on our investment,” Dillner said. “If we tell people about Abilene and it comes from the heart...each one of you has your own personal story about Abilene. By telling that story, it would be a lot better than $75,000 spending.”
Abilene then can develop a campaign to deploy in strategic media outlets.
“The important thing is we have to take our stories and figure out how to put them on TV, in brochures, in pamphlets, and put them on Interstate.”