There were people in the Mountain Home area recently that were spying on our community.
But don't worry, it was all according to plan.
Over the span of what I can only guess was several days, representatives from Roger Brooks International were invited to visit our community. Their goal was simple: Figure out what we're doing right from an economic development standpoint, what we're doing wrong and where we can improve.
They didn't herald their arrival or go out of their way to say they were here. It's because they wanted to look at everything the same way someone new to this community views it.
Secrecy was important. Not even the mayor was aware of when they arrived. Had someone mentioned the team were here, it could've easily contaminated the results because someone could go out of their way to put on their Sunday best and "pump up" the city.
At the same time, I would hate to think there would be others out that would've done the opposite -- gone out of their way to sabotage this effort. But from what I read and hear, there are some out there that seem genuinely unhappy with anything this city does to make things better. I just wish I knew why.
Since my family and I arrived here 10 years ago, it's clear that Mountain Home isn't the same as it was back in 2006. I remember seeing a lot more store fronts in the downtown area where people were selling everything from nick nacks to imported teas.
One of the things I enjoyed most was the Arts After 5 program where these businesses opened their doors a few extra hours once a month and invited people to come inside and do a little shopping or simply ask questions. There was usually a local musician or artist in each store showcasing their talents, which added to the appeal.
Then the housing market crashed, and it seemed that everything we once enjoyed went away. It's been a tough road with a large number of these businesses shutting their doors with no one there to fill those empty store fronts.
That's what Roger Brooks hopes to remedy. He will show us exactly what we need to do to get this city "back on its feet" and make it a place where more people want to visit with some choosing to live here and raise a family.
Mountain Home isn't this team's first "rodeo," either. They've been in communities, not just in the United States, but various countries as well. In fact, this is at least the second time they've been in southern Idaho following a similar visit in Caldwell a few years back.
What Brooks is doing represents a major step in helping Mountain Home find a "brand" -- the one thing that makes this city unique compared to others in southern Idaho or even the United States.
For example, he might say we're the gateway to paradise in the nearby mountains. Perhaps our community's patriotic heritage is what makes us unique. It could even be something as simple as mentioning we're a true international community due to our ties with Mountain Home Air Force Base and our military veteran population.
Whatever the case, that one attribute -- that brand -- is what we could use in everything from billboards to marketing. When a company wants to know why they should build a factory, processing plant or large-scale enterprise here, that brand is the one thing we would hope they will remember.
But that's just a start. Brooks and his team will show us some very easy (read: low-cost) ways this community can take what we have and make it better. It's the same idea that allowed Caldwell to make some significant improvements to their downtown area.
The team will formally present its findings during a briefing Thursday evening in Lloyd Schiller Gymnasium at the high school. For those planning to attend, I urge you to go in there with an open mind and hear what they have to say.
Whatever you do, don't immediately jump to conclusions or dispute everything they have to say.
Consider this: These men and women are experts in what they do. Their services are in such high demand that it took three years for us to get on their schedule.
But I believe the wait was well worth it since the timing was perfect. We're starting to see the state's economy start to grow, which I hope will soon trickle down to our town.
More people here are starting to buy houses here, and at least two empty store fronts in Mountain Home have sold in the last few weeks. If things stay on track, I'm hopeful this boost will then extend across the county.
Granted, I know we have a lot of work ahead of us, and this briefing is just the start. For those that come to the meeting, be willing to listen. Just don't shoot the messenger.
-- Brian S. Orban