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Alan Zemek

COMMON CURRENCY: 'If you build it, they will come' is inspiring

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"If you build it, they will come" is one of the most memorable lines of dialogue ever written. It is almost haiku in its simplicity, with a depth of feeling that is both romantic and nostalgic at the same time. It is naïve in its blind optimism, yet somehow conveys the courage and conviction necessary to take on a difficult task with an uncertain or remote outcome. As a story telling device it works really well, but that is as far as it goes.

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A recent study published by the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago examined over 700 building programs for cultural facilities with budgets ranging from $4 million to $300 million and found that 80 percent of the projects they studied experienced cost over runs, in some cases by as much as 200 percent from their original budget. More sobering, the study found that revenue projections used to justify the projects were in many cases, wildly unrealistic.

It always seems easier to dissect a failure, but here is where the lesson is: What was unique about the 20 percent of projects that didn't run over budget and experience financial difficulty? The study found three common factors. A successful building program was designed for a specific purpose, intended to fill a clearly defined need, and had an effective project management team.

"If you build it they will come" should be followed by "provided you have studied the demographics of the market, identified an opportunity to exploit an unfilled niche, and developed an effective marketing strategy to reach your intended audience and turn them into your customers.

The trick is to find the right balance between aspiration and analysis. Aspiration is what motivates us and drive us forward, the desire to create and achieve, and see hard work rewarded and satisfied. Analysis is the tools to help get there, to guide the proper allocation of scarce time and resources, find the critical path, and stay on track to see the mission accomplished. These are all elements of a good business plan.

"If you build it they will come" can be a true and inspiring vision for a positive future, but it also has an evil twin called "If it was such a good idea someone would have done it already." This sentiment is more than just prudent skepticism; it is built on a false sense of security in the status quo. And a false sense of security in the way things are is just as dangerous as a naïve hope for the future. Even when we are not seeking change, change is seeking us, and often not in ways we would prefer, or in some cases even expect.

Maybe there is a third line. "If you already built it and they are already coming, what are you doing to make sure they keep coming back?"

Alan J. Zemek is a Park Rapids area developer and author of "Generation Busted: How America Went Broke in the Age of Prosperity." You can follow his blog, or comment on this article on his website, www.genera tionbusted.com.

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