By Tara Bitzan, executive director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce

More than ever before, communities are being marketed heavily to attract new residents. With the nationwide workforce shortage, communities are hoping to be the place of choice for anyone looking to relocate.

Fortunately, the Alexandria/Douglas County lakes area is easy to market.

We have rolling hills, abundant lakes, wildlife and an array of parks and trail systems.

We have visual arts, theatrical opportunities, extensive musical offerings and a variety of faith options.

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We have quality health care options, progressive schools and learning opportunities for all ages.

We have a bustling retail community, a strong cross sector of industry and are conveniently located off I-94 between the Twin Cities and Fargo.

Why wouldn’t someone choose the Alexandria area if they were looking to relocate?

Regardless of how many great things a community has to offer, none of it matters if the people who live and/or work there are not welcoming.

The chamber of commerce, the economic development commission, the city, the county, local employers and others can all market the heck out of the community, but they won’t convince people to come here – or certainly not stay here – unless those people have positive interactions with others within the community.

It’s been proven in all areas of life that happiness is driven by relationships, not things. And while our area offers a lot in the form of “experiences,” relationships will trump that as well.

So, what are you doing to “sell” the community?

Do you smile at people? Make eye contact? Greet them? Hold the door for them? Thank them? Show interest in them?

I’m not just talking about customer service in the workplace. Every one of us should be doing the above things every day everywhere – at work, at home, in the community.

If everyone who lives in Douglas County would make a pledge to do these few, simplistic things every day, I guarantee you, with all the other incredible things we have to offer, there’s no doubt people would choose us over other communities.

Customer service often relates to business settings, but it’s a term that is universal and basically just comes down to being kind. Imagine being known as the kindest, most welcoming community in Minnesota! It can’t happen without you making the effort.

And now a note for those of you who are thinking, “I don’t want our community to grow – I like it just the way it is.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration of crowded roadways, having to wait to get a table at your favorite restaurant, the constant buzz of watercraft while you are trying to enjoy a quiet afternoon on your deck.

Consider what happens to communities that are no longer able to attract new residents. Businesses can’t find the workforce they need so they cut hours, cut services, or move to another area that fills their needs. Less money circulates, which means less investments are made on improvements at businesses, schools, parks and roadways. Things begin to deteriorate and eventually people already living in the community begin moving elsewhere where more services are offered, where the quality of community amenities is better, and – well – you get the picture. The community shrivels up.

Fortunately, Alexandria is a progressive, forward-thinking community, and it is unlikely that will be our future. However, it is something each of us should think about occasionally. And while you are contemplating that, also think about the role you play in marketing our community and pledge to become part of the community’s welcoming committee today!

Tara Bitzan is executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.