Community involvement is key to business development

SAN ANTONIO – Brian Scott had been involved in motorcoach industry group leadership for years, but decided he wanted similar involvement in his Florida community.

He started attending local transit board meetings and hearing things he didn’t like. He asked questions, met transit officials and eventually filed a successful charter complaint against the transit agency over a no-bid contract for services he knew were not allowable.

“By doing all of that, by going to those transit board meetings as often as I did, don’t think for a second that the people up there did not look in the audience to see who is there,” said Scott, president of Largo, Fla.-based Escot Bus Lines. “If you go, you will be noticed and you will be paid attention to.”

The involvement gave him insight into transit service workings and led to him being asked to sit on a local coordinating board for the transportation disadvantaged program in 2010, a position he still holds.

That led to filling an opening on his county’s transit advisory committee, which led to an appointment on the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board of directors in 2012, where he continues to serve as an appointee among elected county and city representatives.

“It’s … an interesting kind of full-circle evolution,” said Scott, one of two panelists in an Expo education session on marketing and business development by engaging in one’s local community.

“I started by going to the transit board meetings and being pissed off. Then I filed a charter complaint against them … and now I’m one of them.”

While Scott can’t bid on services because of conflict issues, the experience provides him with valuable insight into the public-transit sector and what’s coming up, which could help him later when he’s not in a public role. He also can positively affect public policy.

He also has developed valuable connections with elected officials on the board. “So the advantage for me on this is that I know what’s going on,” Scott said.

Fellow panelist Mark Szyperski, president and CEO of On Your Mark Transportation consulting of Nashville, encouraged community engagement by motorcoach operators to boost awareness of their companies.

“If you just go to an event and sit, that’s not engagement and involvement,” he said, urging networking at events and meetings.

“Every chamber I go to tells me they get phone calls at least once a week” asking for a bus company to charter or for a bus company running scheduled service, Szyperski said.

After telling your chamber about your company, become a member and talk to fellow members, he said. Oftentimes, you discover members who sit on school or church boards, or volunteer in other organizations who book transportation services and can be queried on how they book carriers, whether they know where to find safety records and the like.

“Start asking those kinds of questions,” Szyperski said.

Involvement builds connections, Scott said.

“Being involved – whether it’s a chamber or whether it’s getting involved politically – is as much about promoting yourself as it is your company, because at the end of the day, you are your company and people don’t do business with companies, they do business with people,” he said.

“So it really comes down to establishing credibility with yourself and the local community and if you establish that credibility, you become the leading voice of transportation issues in your community and that’s really kind of the ultimate goal,” Scott said.

Political involvement, such as party contributions, can result in invitations to key events or receptions with business and political leaders and also build one’s credibility and contacts, he said.

Scott also encouraged enlisting in leadership programs common in many communities. The programs are designed to develop future leaders, whose training can expose them to key government, corporate and nonprofit executives, programs and resources.

“Through that process, you meet people that you will probably never otherwise come into contact with,” and with whom credibility and connections are built, Scott said, adding that such programs are also good for key staff.

It takes time and money, “but the benefits are huge,” he said.

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