Friday, June 29, 2007

Colonial Williamsburg: Lessons to learn then and now

I just returned from a vacation to Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia. The history was great, educational and cannot help but make one thankful to those who founded this country.

But in this century, I was struck by the great planning and execution that has gone into a business environment that grows 300 percent in the summer, welcoming several million visitors from around the world in an area that is roughly 10 square miles.

While Williamsburg of the 18th century has volumes to teach us about our freedom, and those who gave it to us, Williamsburg of today has many lessons of its own for us -- mostly economic.

The synergy between the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the local government, Chamber of Commerce and the fine folks over at William and Mary should serve as a model for communities that succeed.

I spent my last morning in Williamsburg at an IHOP, speaking informally to the manager (originally from Chicago). He said that the business environment in Chicago was bad for small business. "It was take, take and more take and absolutely no cooperation." I asked him what the difference was in Williamsburg. He said, "Government gets out of the way and lets business people do business without any games."

I was compelled by the evidence that he must be right. Failing to plan for economic success is planning to fail, which is basically my argument about the Bayshore and, to a broader extent, the county. Common sense and getting politics out of commerce is always going to be the only way for an economy to succeed. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be in the offing anytime soon locally.

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