public parking internet

The town with no public parking

Recently I traveled to visit a family member. Their town is practically devoid of parking in the retail and business sections of town. Weirdest thing ever. I haven’t seen anything quite like this in years. Parking was almost non-existent.

Structural retail

In the main retail part of town, you had to use a parking structure six blocks away. It was damp and poorly lit. Given that this is an area where meth has substantially influenced the nature and volume of local crimes, it wasn’t a place I’d want family members walking to and from.  What little front door parking the retail area offered was completely consumed – and as I watched for a while, these cars were there for the long term. Normally, retail spaces have fairly frequent turnover, but not here. I suspect the spots were taken by employees of nearby businesses – whose building owners weren’t required to provide parking for a reasonable percentage of the building’s expected occupancy.

This isn’t unusual. Many times a substantial new building will be built in an area that is already under serious pressure parking-wise – and the building’s owner isn’t expected to allocate space for parking by the building’s occupants. The result is an area under even heavier parking pressure, which is not particularly good for business.

Except in large cities, transit usually isn’t an option. That was the case in this town of about 10,000 people. As a result, travel happens in individual vehicles, which means parking is a critical resource for the success of these retail businesses.

Business parking in a box

In the “office-y”, business section of town, there were a few small (two or three story) office towers and medical facilities. These buildings were clumped together in a downtown (formerly dense retail area) with surprisingly few parking spots – and none on the street. Collectively, these buildings were big enough to house several hundred workers. The result? Some of those employees were parking in adjacent residential areas and were obviously walking across four lane roads that were not pedestrian friendly areas. Down the road about 300 yards, it appeared that “overflow” parking was happening in the corner of an abandoned box store’s parking lot.

I have no idea where customers of these businesses would park. Maybe they circle the lot like a buzzard until a spot opens up. I don’t know about you, but when a business offers nowhere to park, I go somewhere else. They chose the location and the parking situation, or they chose not to move when the situation became difficult parking-wise. If the location and parking options are inconvenient, seriously sub-standard, or just plain terrible, I choose one of their competitors. I’ll bet you do too.

Did I say parking? Sorry about that.

Parking is a critical resource for businesses, particularly those that serve the public, whether they’re retail or “other business”. Certainly, we want to have safe parking for our employees, but for businesses that serve the public, it’s like oxygen.

Whoops.

When I was talking about the town I visited, rather than parking, I was referring to a startling lack of internet access at every location I tested. But now you get the idea about scarcity of a resource – and the problems are similar whether we’re talking about parking or broadband.

35% of the US workforce freelances and a substantial percentage of them telecommute full or part-time. Six percent of working Montanans telecommute. Given the nature of business and the needs of the US work force, these numbers are likely to keep increasing.

While you might think that telecommuters are all geeky software jobs – that isn’t the case. Telecommuters work in finance, law, medicine, pharma, research, insurance, higher education, customer service, government (yes, really), marketing, sales, cybersecurity, and many other fields. In other words, many “office jobs” of the past have become telecommuting jobs.

Broadband is a strategic economic resource

When entrepreneurs leave town, it’s not usually a good thing. Those two issues will make it difficult for a town to be the place where two pizza teams form.

Quality internet access isn’t simply about watching cat videos without buffering. It’s a strategic economic resource for your community. Like Chattanooga (“Gig City”), cities and towns don’t have to wait for big cable ISP vendors, much less Washington or the state capitol to make better access happen.