Perceptions vs. Reality in Manchester – We All Have A Role To Play
Last year a Chamber taskforce studying the current state of Manchester’s business climate reached an important conclusion: the perception of our community by both citizens and visitors can and does have a significant impact on our business climate. Survey results, focus groups, and discussions with key community stakeholders all provided data and feedback to support this finding that, while not groundbreaking or new, is important for Manchester to readily acknowledge as we consider the future potential, development, and growth of our community.
When assessing a business climate, the focus is often primarily on issues like planning and zoning regulations, available real estate, workforce readiness, the K-12 and higher education system, and health care and energy costs. In reality, these key policy issues do not tell the whole story. How we think about our community influences how we talk about it to our families, peers, and neighbors. These conversations shape how we and others perceive the current state and future prospects of our community. In the digital age of social media, these conversations that drive perception are often amplified through tweets, facebook posts, blogs, and new media platforms.
What is the perception of our community?
That is too big and complex of a question to answer in one newsletter column (though the Chamber will be launching a project to explore this question; keep reading for more details!). It is clear, however, that our perception is not always in line with reality, particularly when it comes to issues like crime, public safety, and education. This is not to say we do not have real challenges facing our community on these issues. We do and we must be realistic about these challenges and solutions needed to address them.
We also must be sure to not allow these challenges to define our reality. I often find discussions on issues like this focus more on the problem rather than the solution, which tends to reinforce and perpetuate negative perceptions about the community. Also lost is the great work already being done that needs to be celebrated. For example, while the Manchester School District certainly faces its share of challenges (i.e. budget, redistricting), one only needs to visit a Manchester school to see the passion, innovation, and excitement that exists among the staff and students.
When it comes to public safety, Manchester, as the largest city in Northern New England and surrounded by rural communities, deals with crime and the opioid epidemic at a level higher than other parts of our state. Does that mean we are not a safe community? The reality is no, when compared to other cities of comparable size, Manchester stacks up well in terms of public safety.
We can all play a role in ensuring proper balance when discussing issues like this with family and friends, which in turn will have an enormous impact on the perception of our community. As engaged citizens we can ensure that every discussion about some of the challenges facing our community also includes recognition of the amazing progress and exciting developments happening in Manchester. In the past year Politico Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have all published featured pieces highlighting the booming tech ecosystem in the Manchester Millyard and the positive impact it is having on the community. Manchester continues to show up on a variety of national rankings including best place to start a business, best city for millennials, and best place for tech jobs. Downtown Manchester has seen significant economic development activity over the past several years including new high-end luxury apartments, innovative mini-flat millennial housing, new restaurants and shops, explosive growth in the Millyard powered by tech businesses and institutions of higher education.
The Chamber will soon be launching a new marketing campaign to proactively promote, market, brand the city and ensure this good news is better represented in the perception of our city going forward. We can’t do it alone though. The next time you are engaged in a discussion with family, friends, or peers you can do your part. Be sure the conversation includes not only discussion of the challenges facing the city and the potential solutions, but also celebration of the many successes and exciting trends we are seeing today. Your voice will matter in helping create a more positive dialogue about the city that will help support a stronger business climate for the future.