Community Development: Strengthening Communities by Funding Imagination
by Tara C. Perkins, Contributing Writer
The American landscape is comprised of a host of neighborhoods and communities in all shapes and sizes – large, thriving metropolitan areas like New York and Chicago, rural villages like those nestled in the mountains of West Virginia, beachside oases dotting the picturesque coasts of California and Florida, and scenic farming homesteads like those located on the rugged acreage of New England.
Wherever community exists, there is bound to be commercial enterprise. The backbone of America’s economy is the myriad businesses and industries throughout the nation, along with the people who live and work in those locales. Ample opportunity comes with commercial activity, like the necessary entities that support community members, including schools; grocery, clothing and specialty stores; and recreation establishments. Prosperity drives commercial endeavors and with responsible commercial enterprise, comes growth for America. National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) supports the involvement of its commercial practitioners across the country through local member services, aimed at having a positive impact on economic structure within communities where REALTORS® are working diligently to foster business development.
NAR’s Commercial Innovation Grant Program (CIG)
REALTORS® are essential to the development of America’s flourishing backdrop of commercial activity. The Commercial Innovation Grant Program (CIG) provides funding to local REALTOR® associations to enhance or launch new or, as 2017 NAR President Bill Brown would say, revolutionary member services.
Shara Varner, NAR’s Manager of Commercial Development and Outreach, has spent three years managing the CIG Program. Varner says, “The goal of the program has transcended from a speaker’s bureau to a strategy that advances how NAR provides for their commercial practitioners. How do our associations get proactive and educate their members and the community about what they do? How can they display available properties and help current tenants in properties? How do they get folks to think about REALTORS® as resources and not as a one-stop transaction?”
NAR developed the CIG program to help Associations do just that. “It is important for REALTORS® to stay relevant,” Varner explains, “to build their book of business and deepen current relationships. Commercial practitioners are so busy creating communities, block-by-block. CIG funding is a jumpstart to get folks over the hurdle so they can get out there in innovative ways.”
Project Spotlight: Winston-Salem
The community where the Winston-Salem Regional Association of REALTORS® (WSRAR) is centered was facing a two-year construction project to a major highway connecting outlying areas to the downtown, with an expected negative impact on traffic to local businesses. Susan Jester, Director of MLS/RCA Services for WSRAR spoke about the grant that was awarded to WSRAR that helped the Association and its members to meet the challenge in a unique way. “We conducted outreach to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to get information about the anticipated impact on businesses. This data was housed on a thumb-drive and distributed to businesses by our members in attractive bags containing an informative magnet and a foam, stress-relief construction cone. The information allowed business owners to create branded flyers, helping customers to navigate construction to continue shopping and conducting business. Thumb-drives were branded and served as a powerful advertising device to connect with the retail and business community. This was a creative way to showcase the expertise of the REALTORS® and to tackle a common problem.”
According to Jester, as a REALTOR®, it is vital to establish yourself as part of the community you serve. REALTORS® are in the trenches and endure changes in the community, along with other residents and businesses. It is important to communicate that we offer myriad services and an ongoing relationship. “Your idea to address a challenge does not need to be a huge idea—just a clever one. Taking proactive steps and cultivating collaboration is paramount. The grant serves as a boost to lift a unique program,” says Jester.
Paul Stewart McGill, 2017 WSRAR Chair, says, “We hosted a luncheon and a breakfast to educate our members about the project. Closing the highway presents challenges and this was an ideal opportunity for education. Our leadership was invested in making the project a success. Downtown business owners had an opportunity to interact with the membership outside of a business transaction. I believe NAR offers vital help for programming that improves the value and benefits for commercial practitioners.” Jester adds, “With members personally distributing to businesses, they reinforced that REALTORS® are committed to the community.”
Project Spotlight: Central Oklahoma
The Central Oklahoma Commercial Association of REALTORS® (COCAR) founded an annual networking event called The COCAR Fall Forum that focuses on a topic of interest to the commercial real estate community, while providing continuing education credit for commercial real estate licensees. With a clear focus on advocacy rather than economic forecasts, this first-ever forum covered local and state issues. COCAR highlighted their expertise and established themselves as a valuable resource with their choice of topic, and the creation of a relevant white paper about earthquakes.
Bart Binning of COCAR says, “Since we are a new Commercial Overlay Board, one purpose of the forum was to establish a name for our organization with the general public, in terms of political advocacy. Oklahoma has experienced a considerable increase in the number of earthquakes and this matters to our community. Noteworthy announcements were made concerning the origin of the earthquakes. We had significant press leading up to and at the event, and the Oklahoma educational television authority broadcast the first two hours, which was immense visibility. Overall, our Fall Forum was a huge success. As REALTORS® and members of the community, we established vital credibility.”
Project Spotlight: Reading-Berks
Commercial brokers in the Reading-Berks Association of REALTORS® (RBAR) did not have one central location to direct potential buyers to search for commercial properties. So, RBAR applied for a grant from NAR to help create a web tool to provide a one-stop place to search all available commercial properties in Berks County. Wesley T. Stefanick, Director of Government and Community Affairs for the CIG recipient, RBAR, says, “With the CIG, we were able to create a single-source search capability to help companies looking to locate or expand in Berks County to find the space they need. Our local economic development organization is now promoting the website.”
The grant pushed RBAR to take a risk to solve a problem, and fostered important community collaboration, along with creating referrals. Stefanick says, “Our project greatly enhanced the value of our association for commercial real estate practitioners.”
Inspired to make a difference in your community? Discuss ideas with your commercial peers about how to strengthen and increase the services provided at your local REALTOR® Association. Talk to your local Association Executive about applying for NAR’s Commercial Innovation Grant. Spark your imagination and get started today!