By David Feehan

I have the opportunity to give an Ignite presentation at the annual conference of the International Economic Development Council in Atlanta. Ignite presentations are like mini-TED talks. IEDC is to economic developers what IPI is to parking professionals and what the International Downtown Association (which I used to lead) is to downtown professionals.

The subject of my presentation is based on a new book I co-authored, “Design Downtown for Women – Men Will Follow.” As I prepared my presentation, I thought about my audience, and how the world of parking and the world of economic development (and for that matter, downtown development) are closely interlinked.

I can’t count the number of times I was recruiting a business for a downtown location when the first question I was asked was, “Where will my employees or my customers park?” If I could not provide a satisfactory answer, I knew I could not close the deal.

So, in this age of ride sharing and autonomous vehicles, what are parking professionals supposed to do to support economic development?

First, parking professionals should educate themselves about how economic development professionals do what they do. Parking is not just a matter of supply and demand, building well-constructed and well-designed parking facilities, or managing enforcement programs. Parking professionals need to understand how business leaders think when they are looking for locations. What are the most important issues site selectors have to deal with? For most businesses, the most important issue is: can I attract the talent I need to grow and run my business? And that means providing safe, convenient access for current and potential employees.

In terms of customers and employees, when we were doing the research for our book, we surveyed more than 100 women business leaders. What they told us was that the most hated thing about coming downtown was parking. As parking professionals, we need to understand why this is so, and do everything that we can to correct it.

Women are the most important demographic for any successful business. Women make up 60 percent of college graduates and control more than 50 percent of the private wealth in the U.S. If you are concerned about running a successful parking operation that supports economic development, ignore women at your peril.

David Feehan is president of Civitas Consulting, LLC.