The College of Idaho on Business

SCOTT JOHNSON: Business-community partnerships benefit all

Director of The College of Idaho’s Business and Accounting DepartmentDecember 3, 2013 

One of the most obvious ways to build a partnership between business and community is through economic exchange. For example, the students, faculty and staff at The College of Idaho invest in Caldwell and the wider Treasure Valley through transactions involving purchases of food, gifts, clothes, groceries and gas.

Another dimension to a partnership is providing mutual social support, and this can be more transformational than transactional. Consider the differences. Transactions consist of impersonal, disconnected day-to-day activities. Transformation means connecting, integrating and investing on a more personal level to build long-term relationships for the future, not just to satisfy today’s needs.

For example, The College of Idaho helps build transformational partnerships by connecting with community members through special events in the arts, sciences, theater, athletics, entertainment and more. From this perspective, local businesses could provide members of the community enjoyable experiences combining the outcome satisfaction of consuming a product or service with the processes surrounding it (music, atmosphere, scenery, history, etc.).

Another dimension to transformational partnership requires more effort and steadfast determination beyond the existing support and exchange processes. Transformation takes time, and this can be a challenge in a society accustomed to instant gratification (or, at least, instant provision of products and services through online providers offering seemingly limitless choices).

As a community is transforming through economic and social regeneration, the infrastructure of local providers representing a wide variety of experiential choices may not be available. So what does this mean for communities such as Caldwell, where ongoing redevelopment efforts will take several years (a lifetime if put in terms of instant gratification)?

In agri-business terms, it can mean the chicken or the egg conundrum. If a merchant plans and invests and builds an establishment — in a sense putting all eggs in one basket — customers must come if the business is to prosper and stay in operation. But what if this happens through “transactions” rather than transformational partnerships? What if patronage is strong at first and then tapers off, as often is the case with the current fad and “next big thing”?

Enduring transformational partnerships between businesses and community members entail an obligation of sustainability. All parties must sustain the vision by not giving up on the view (or lack thereof) that is immediately visible to us. We must buy into the future of our community, which goes beyond just buying the product and services that are offered here now.

This goes for individual consumers — don’t give up and drive away, make a commitment! It also applies to business owners — there may be bleak moments for business to go with the peak business periods — whom we are counting on to stick it out.

Local merchants are the foundation for the future of our communities. Resist the temptation to cut back hours of operation, relocate or take the drastic step of shutting down without notice. It may not seem like much from a transactional viewpoint if one business closes, but from a wider perspective the collective impact can create a perception of uncertainty and disorganization for customers.

The result will be a socially cohesive, economically vital community of which we can all be proud, because we will all be investors in transformation.

sajohnson@collegeofidaho.edu, 459-5219

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