Any student who has ever attempted to write a college entrance essay knows how difficult it is to talk about one’s accomplishments in a modest yet attractive way. Business owners often undergo the same struggle as they try to illustrate their philanthropic and socially responsible investments without sounding boastful or pretentious. This was the central message of Mary Fehlig’s address to the Kentlands Downtown Partnership’s (KDP) members at January’s bi-monthly meeting: Do not be shy about promoting your corporate goodness. Companies can “do well by doing good.”
Whether planned or not, the KDP’s past two guest speakers have built on a theme of brand development. Fehlig’s presentation to the group centered on how corporate social responsibility builds brand awareness, establishes customer loyalty and effectively increases revenue, all goals KDP member businesses have expressed. Fehlig’s work through her company, the Fehlig Group, helps businesses promote their social responsibility by enabling them to identify their acts of community involvement, charitable giving and environmental conservation.
The Jan. 23 meeting took place at Chyten Learning Center, owned and directed by KDP secretary Ann Derryberry. Just as local students come to this Main Street tutoring center to hone their academic and personal-narrative writing skills, so too did business owners come on a frigid January evening to learn the necessity of advancing their local development and community involvement initiatives.
Discussion of several local businesses’ efforts to advance social responsibility got the group talking about how charitable work emerges from business owners’ passions. Specific examples of MedImmune’s support of state-wide STEM initiatives or SPAGnVOLA’s commitment to sustainable farming practices revealed how a business’ commitment to its values and its mission can help it form a complete corporate story and identity. Ideas about how to economize on Kentlands as a community of “organically-grown businesses” and customers who are “locavores” swirled around the group of over a dozen neighborhood business owners and residents in attendance.
As several initiatives take shape — including a public-arts display currently in the works and the city of Gaithersburg’s application to designate Kentlands an Arts and Entertainment district – many local business owners are seeing the near future as an opportunity to both put Kentlands Downtown on “the map” while at the same time differentiating it from other walkable, new-urban communities through its businesses’ commitments to local development and responsible giving.