A vision to survive

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
June 29, 2003

The book I would love for someone to write is 'Everything I Need to Know About Business I Learned from the Wizard of Oz.' It would be full of nuggets like:

' The bad witch always receives a just reward.

' Everyone has problems, even your uncles.

' There is a seed of opportunity in every disaster - including tornados in rural Kansas.

' Things are seldom what they seem; the operation behind the curtain may be less complex and sophisticated than you think.

' Never ignore the directions someone gives you simply because that person is short.

But my favorite observation from the movie is grounded in centuries-old theology: the solution to most problems is internal, not external. What Dorothy, the lion, the tin man and the scarecrow sought was within them all along; they just didn't realize it. This simple, but powerful lesson hit me squarely in the forehead this week as I found myself in the midst of a discussion about Knoxville tourism.

What if Knoxville could build an attraction that would draw 400,000 visitors a year, including tourists from every state? Wouldn't it be exciting if 200,000 of these people visited from out-of-town?

We already have one.

Did you know that more than half of the 380,000 to 400,000 annual visitors to the Knoxville Zoo are from outside Knox county? More than 100,000 of those are from outside the state of Tennessee.

I'm all for getting out-of-towners to leave as much of their money in Knoxville as anyone. I'd love to see more of it. But in our enthusiasm to build the next great thing or emulate someone else's success, we can ignore our existing local assets. There is an old joke in professional services industries that an expert is anyone from out-of-town. The city development equivalent is that a good tourist attraction is anything that attracts people to some other town. If it works in Chattanooga, we ought to do it in Knoxville.

Our area has a history of ignoring or being ashamed of our community assets. Knoxville was once the center of the country music universe, but the community was too embarrassed by the prospect of a hillbilly image to leverage the opportunity. We often shy away from our local fanaticism with sports, but two recent high-profile conventions were sports related: bowling and motorcycling. Fewer than 150 years ago, Knoxville rivaled Atlanta as the economic hub of the southeast. Our natural business resources (primarily, the river and an educated, ethnically diversified workforce) surpassed those in Atlanta. But due to lack of attention or investment or risk-taking, those assets became either underutilized (the river) or shunned to places like Atlanta (the workforce.)

My point is not just about the Zoo. There are plenty of assets in this community that visitors already appreciate. We need to dream and plan and do new things: a community requires vision to survive. But in our zealousness to look forward, we shouldn't forget to occasionally look inward.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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