Phase 2- Enlightened Pathfinding – “Moving a Rust-Bucket Town into a Premier League One.”-09.12.17

by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.®

‘Burnley, with a population of 73,000 is the smallest town to have a Premier League soccer team in the UK: where the Premier Soccer League is one of the most prestigious sports franchises in the world.’ Taken from NY Times sports section article, August 2017.



 20 or 30 years ago your writer would occasionally visit this northern English town in Mid-Lancashire County. It was the classic case of an old industrial town blighted by social deprivation, unemployment and commercial decline. Now it’s a thriving community once more that won Britain’s 2013 award as the most entrepreneurial place in the country. Additionally, it has become a role model for a Yorkshire County town called Huddersfield, which has just won promotion to the English Premier Soccer League, too – or football league in UK parlance.


Suffice it is to say that Burnley has managed to hang onto its prestige status over the past three seasons since being promoted; and just started out its 2017-18 season with a victory over mighty Chelsea – with all that soccer

giant’s star players playing on their home turf. Over that three year run, it has attracted “away fans and journalists to stay” at a new outcrop of town hotels. It’s built a new state-of-the-art team training facility on the outskirts of town and takes great pride in hosting community sports facilities, educational programs and events financed by Premier League grants.


Not only is Burnley a role model for Huddersfield, another rust-bucket, northern English town in renaissance, but it can also play that role for countless other towns and cities on both sides of-the-Atlantic-pond. Mike Garlick, Burnley’s Club Chairman, says his team’s success has spurred further economic transformation in the town over recent years. Much has happened as the team rose to fame and fortune and better positioned the town for greater things to come. A leader like Garlick clearly helped Burnley shape the pathway to break away from its rust-bucket image and circumstances.


He clearly has a success strategy for his club and does his best to leverage that to his home town’s advantage: even though his fortunes have led him to relocate to the south of England. As indicated earlier, there are many visible signs of this paying-off, despite the town’s minnow size relative to other Premier League towns and cities. It has managed to shrug-off its small-town status and maintained its successful soccer franchise. No doubt the town’s size will change over time, if it continues to prosper and sustain its soccer prowess.


Converting that traditional rust-bucket mindset into renewed futuristic faith is vital for other towns and cities that would like to return to prosperity once more. Burnley provides a useful role-model for many other communities bent on renewal and a willingness to draw upon their natural potential by asking such questions as:


»What are our special talents or assets that we can call upon to turn things around? – In the case of Burnley and now possibly Huddersfield, it is their soccer franchises that have restored town spirit and support. Other towns or cities in the US have baseball, ice hockey, basketball, football or soccer teams that could potentially become community torch bearers.


»What other leadership or people talent do we have at our disposal to turn the tide? – Burnley had already won the entrepreneurship accolade of the year award when the prestige soccer league promotion came its way: although we shouldn’t overlook the competitive battles its team had to cope with before reaching that pinnacle. So the town was already on the right path, but the team’s winning ways helped stoke local community spirit such that it could do more. Many leaders like Garlick moved away, but now some will be returning.


»Do we have other community assets we can build upon to reinforce a better direction? – Although this article has placed a certain obvious emphasis on sports teams, since that can be a great way to galvanize a town or city –ala the stampede for team jerseys of newly promoted Huddersfield: so much so that town fans will have to wait a few weeks into the new season before their new jerseys will arrive – there are other local franchises that can serve as useful catalysts, too. Town or city franchises in arts fairs, education symposia, or civic activities may assist in acting as local magnets or rejuvenating community spirit. Potential community spirit comes in all shapes and sizes. (NOTE: This writer has been advised that Carnegie Mellon University had quite a big impact on Pittsburgh’s renaissance, due to its ability to attract modern-era students who then became available to fill local, 21st-century business positions in software and media. Others have flocked back to the city for modern-era jobs, too.)  


Once the vision for a renaissance or turn-around has catalyzed, it’s up to the local political, commercial and other leaders to set the pace. Activities such as the ones listed below should be considered:

     »Get local leaders to utilize option-solving – see recent Phase 1 article – to review your best turnaround town, city or business alternatives.

 »Encourage known leaders, who have fled your town, to return and participate in near-term priority discussions.

 »Enlist some of the same out-of-town leaders to become mentors for potential leaders still living within the local community.

»Form “Enterprise teams” of 6-7 like-minded people to pursue some of the options and/or priorities brought forth from the first two suggestions.

»Get artistic performers, who have left town, to return and lead cultural, money-raising events or concerts.

»Spur local sports teams to step-up and capture the spirit and support of those still living in the community.

»Get civic leaders to bid for grants and financial support for worthy, change-of-the-landscape projects.

»Draw the local, regional and national media into placing a spotlight on your community and attract former native townsfolk to return or collaborate in some way.


All of these and other possibilities are part of the pathway for turning around your community or enterprise;  like Burnley, Huddersfield, Pittsburgh and countless other rust-bucket towns or cities – or almost dead-in-the-water enterprises. Where there’s effective leadership, it will happen.


To find out more about building a strategic pathway, talk with:

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