Comparing Business To Government

As evidence, NRPA/North Carolina State University Revenue School has been teaching revenue generation and revenue enhancement since 1975. Professionals from all types of agencies around the country and Canada have been attending by the hundreds every year for some 35 years.

Even large cities like Indianapolis operate or own revenue-generating facilities like golf courses, marinas, stadiums, ice rinks, etc.

Over the years, I have worked for four park districts–two cities and two private companies–in various areas of parks and recreation. The reason Illinois park districts are so successful in delivering high-quality services to their constituents is they are not bound by the typical, limiting bureaucracy found in most cities and villages.

These localities are exceptional vehicles for providing police, fire, utilities, and roads … all monopolistic-type services. But when it comes to parks and recreation, most villages and cities have trouble creating the flexibility and innovative atmosphere to allow for a business-like approach.

How does a public park and recreation agency successfully employ business practices and strategies? The answers probably number in the dozens, but let’s consider some basics:

Deliver deliberate, sincere, and never-ending customer-service orientation. Realize–as a business does–that people have options, and if they are not treated well, they will go elsewhere.

Conduct market research. Programs, opportunities, features, etc., have to be designed and offered the way people want them, when they want them, and at a price they are willing to pay. Put time and money into finding out.

Understand the link between revenue and expenses. If the money’s not coming in, then the expenses have to be trimmed.

Take calculated risks.

Plan your strategy and re-plan every 3 years.

Eliminate deadwood. Public-service agencies are notorious for not terminating poor employees. There seems to be a notion that a public job becomes a right once it is landed. If an employee does not produce, or even if the revenue in an area is dropping, the person or the job should go away.

Pay attention to the product/service life cycle, assessing and adjusting. Recreation interests are too dynamic to assume they’ll always be popular. Change has to be constant.

Treat money (allocations) as if it were your own. Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish, but make sure you spend in accordance with what residents expect in the way of quantity and quality. Don’t spend merely because it was allocated.

Continuously evaluate procedures and processes for better cost-effectiveness, and more importantly, for user-friendliness!

Create enterprise funds and accounting systems. Too many park and recreation (and other public service) agencies are stifled and forced into systems that create waste. A properly administered and audited enterprise fund can allow for much less costly parks and recreation while establishing the link between revenue and expenses.

When–or perhaps because–public park and recreation agencies follow the bureaucratic examples of other monopolistic services, their budgets are cut first. When agencies adopt, modify, and apply business practices, their value increases and their perceived cost decreases.

When individuals and communities see that their recreation is high quality and high value, and delivered in a business-like manner, they won’t tolerate service cutbacks.

It’s going to take some “wake-up calls” and “whacks upside some heads,” but agencies must see their service as retail government services, and organize and conduct business accordingly.

Arnie Biondo is the Executive Director of the gold medal-winning Carol Stream Park District in Carol Stream, Ill. He has served in that post for 16 years. Prior experience has been with the city of Indianapolis, NESMA Recreation Services, Co. of Saudi Arabia; the City of Kettering, Ohio; and Wheeling, Wheaton, and Oak Brook Terrace (Illinois) Park Districts. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Recreation and Park Management from the University of Oregon, and a Masters of Arts Degree in Service Marketing and Management from DePaul University.

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One comment on “Comparing Business To Government

  1. Brian Sokolowski on said:

    Great article and that is why the community of Carol Stream is fortunate to have a man like Arnie running. He gets it. More governmental agencies should work like this and pool their resources to deliver services to “their” public.

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