Interview with Kim Huston – Economic Development Expert

Kim has over 13 years experience in economic development and a personal passion for building vibrant economies in small communities. Kim is currently President and COO of the Nelson County Economic Development Agency which focuses on enhancing the economic vitality of Bardstown and Nelson County, Kentucky. Kim is also the author of a soon to be released book entitled "Small Town Sexy" that talks about how small towns can build vibrant business communities and be ideal locations for realizing the American dream. I recently gave a talk on the opportunities and unique challenges of place branding in rural communities, and Kim was referred to me as an expert that I would thoroughly enjoy connecting with. I’ve been a long time fan of the Bardstown, Kentucky area as a place to vacation, and I wanted to learn more about why Bardstown is recognized as one of the best small towns in America.

  1. Question:What are the top challenges you have observed for small towns that want to engage in a branding or re-branding exercise?

    Typically small towns do not have the budget necessary to do a branding exercise effectively. Also, is so many cases, they are not certain as to what they would brand if they did have adequate funding. There has to be a way to communicate excitement among your "community players" which gets them on board and believing in the process.

  2. Question: Having enough money to generate an appropriate level of awareness and interest in a place is always a consideration. What are some practical things tips and tactics you’d suggest to small towns to make certain they get the biggest bang for their place branding investment?

    Small town economic development agencies need to work as a team and be on the same page when branding themselves. You often have the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism, Industrial Development and Main Street programs spending $$ for their specific niches and not working together to delver a single message. A small town needs to have one consistent brand message that will work like an umbrella and cover the community as a whole.

  3. Question: What are the top 2 – 3 product or corporate branding principles you feel are particularly important for economic development professionals in small towns to consider when developing a strategy for branding their community?

    1. Defining who the market is.
    2. Keeping track and having awareness of what your competition is doing as well as who your competition is.
    3. What perceptions do "visitors" have of us now? It may be you will need to reevaluate the way you think. It they think you are a sleepy little town without a lot going on, prove them wrong and promote everything in your bag of tricks.
    4. BE UNIQUE!! Don’t get stuck doing something you have been doing for the last 10 years. It’s not about a "pretty" but stagnant website that hasn’t changed in a year. Keep it new, and keep it fresh.

  4. Question: Without giving away the main messages in your book, what was the most surprising finding you uncovered in writing Small Town Sexy that will help economic development professionals in small towns begin to think about the process of branding their community?

    So many people move on emotion. We often make choices with our heads and our hearts. At some point in time, we all have a good memory of either our upbringing in a small town, visiting relatives in a small town, or vacationing in a small town. Economic Development professionals need to use this as a way "in" to people who are choosing to visit small towns or do business here.

  5. Question: What are some of the questions you would recommend a small town answer to help decide if a branding effort is a smart investment?

    There has to be a goal set, a plan in place and a long term commitment from all parties involved before any branding takes place. And most importantly, you must be able to inspire your community to follow through with your branding promise.

    If you are promising that you can do big business in a small town, then you best have the infrastructure in place to be able to deliver. If you are branding your town as "the friendliest in the south" then every customer service representative in every store and attractions needs to exhibit this to its guests. Make the entire community your sales staff!

  6. Question: If economic development professionals in other small towns want to communicate with you, what is the best way for them to join in on the conversation?

    Simply visit and leave me a message.

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