The Florida-based businessman and philanthropist points out that most small cities have great downtowns, unique small businesses and restaurants, a strong sense of community, many opportunities for civic engagement and events and festivals that bring the whole city together.
His book is a blueprint for communities to be a place where residents work, live, shop and play.
When he traveled as a hospital consultant, he began noticing the differences in cities.
“Some thrive. Some don’t. That is just the way it is,” he discovered.
But he began to notice that the cities that were on the edge had big box stores, or one big business like General Motors, which gives them a false sense of security. Take away one of these and you have a city with declining population that is a place where people don’t want to start a business and where youth go away to college and don’t come back, he says.
Studer lives in Pensacola, Florida, where there is a naval base and wonderful beaches for tourists. But he noticed that thriving cities have a number of attractions, not just one or two. City leaders make sure the environment is right for small businesses, and there’s a reason for people to go downtown.
As the founder of Studer Community Institute, Studer’s plan to revitalize cities worked in Pensacola. The city has seen a 25.9 percent growth in property values and has won several awards for its vibrant downtown.
Now, Studer travels the country speaking to community leaders about how the cities can reinvent themselves by encouraging citizen participation and downtown revitalization.
Prescott is on board with both of these and other elements Studer identifies as components of a thriving community, say residents.
“We have many events for the whole family, outdoor activities and all the things that make a small town go ‘round,” said Robert Coombs, visitor information manager for the Prescott Chamber of Commerce.
“There are many opportunities to volunteer and volunteers are the heart of the community,” he said. “They are the heart of the library, hospital, humane society and many other organizations.”
There are unique stores, and, as Coombs said, “When you walk into a business, you are usually talking to the owners.”
The Spice Traveler on Gurley Street, for example, offers dry rubs, spice blends, olive oil and beverages from acai green tea to something to take for symptoms of colds and flu.
“We have more than just spices,” said Glenda McCleary, owner of the shop where you will find her busily working and greeting customers. “We also sell kitchen items, gifts, furniture, specialty foods. All our spices are really fresh because we sell a lot of them so they don’t sit around. We sell a lot of tea, too.”
They opened the store in 2011 and the community has embraced it. She says her cold and flu tea mix actually works – her customers have told her so.
There are also charming and unique restaurants like the Barley Hound on Cortez Street. Dogs are not only welcome, they are encouraged to network.
Meanwhile, humans can enjoy duck fat fries or a juicy rib eye steak.
As for festivals, Prescott’s Christmas Festival is renowned, Coombs said. But there are many other year-round activities in the area featuring music, food and seasons.
In addition to “Building a Vibrant Community,” Studer has authored seven books. He also writes columns on community revitalization and small business leadership development. QCBN
By Patty McCormac, QCBN