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Deb Brown: Specialist Speaker on Small Town Topics

You’ll receive common sense advice based upon my work experience and the experiences of other small towns I’ve helped. 

My programs on small business, what to do with empty buildings, customer service, marketing and economic development have been received by chambers, economic developers, tourism specialists, museum experts, business groups, and small town conferences.

I share examples and advice about creating the kind of community you want to live in.

This practical advice come from real world experience. Over 60 years on the planet has given me knowledge on how to do a lot of things and how to work with many different types of people.  I grew up on a farm and learned quickly how to be an entrepreneur with the first hog I owned.  I’ve had many side gigs that paid for education. Then there is the 30 years in Chicago doing everything from foreign casualty insurance underwriting to retail management.

Recent experience includes Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce in Iowa Executive Director, communications director at the Greater Franklin County Chamber and I’m also also the co-founder of www.saveyour.town along with Becky McCray. We bring you practical advice on how to shape a brighter future for your small town.


Whether you’re looking for a keynote speaker, webinar, a workshop or a hands on visit, I can help your small town. 

Most often asked for presentations include:

Empty Buildings: What to do with them

Every town has them, some more than others. Most people don’t even notice them anymore, unless you’re a visitor or newcomer to town.  Then you wonder what kind of town have you landed in? Let me show you want other communities have done with their empty buildings, help you design a plan for yours, and begin to get businesses back into your town.

Audiences love this topic, it’s hands on and they leave realizing there is work to be done, but they can do it! 

Marketing in a Small Town

Big city folks love to tell us how to do things, and to just scale it down.  Guess what?  That usually doesn’t work.  I’ll share about both offline and online marketing, what you as a small town organization/group/business can do to get the attention you need, and other valuable tips.

My unique, hands on viewpoint of small towns makes this presentation a favorite with many participants.

Customer Service

Businesses are often resistant to the message of better customer service.  I can work with those businesses without causing offense and create action plans that work.  I address internal and external customer service, conflict resolution, and tourism as part of your business and how customer service can make all the difference.

Front line businesses in the tourism industry are partial to this workshop and small town leaders as well!

Big Ideas in Small Towns, Making Small Towns Open to New Ideas

Which small towns will survive into the future? Advances in agriculture, manufacturing, and energy all mean changes to jobs, economic development and tax revenues.  Given the certainty of change in our future, its time to start making your community more idea friendly.  Learn the three practical ways to improve the climate for new ideas and position your small town to thrive no matter what the future brings.

 This topic shakes up old ideas about small towns.  For towns facing opposition or stubborn negativity I offer a specialized version with practical steps you can take to draw a crowd of supporters, create more connection and move ahead with small steps.  

Embedded Community Experience

What does an Embedded Community Visit look like?  Often someone will meet me at the airport and drive us back to town – and in this informal get together, a lot of questions are asked, answers are shared and the process of the embedded community visit begins.  If I drive into town, sharing a meal is another great way to get together informally. 

Usually next up is a walk through (or drive through) town and I have the opportunity to see your town in a way you don’t.  Because I’m fresh eyes, I see things that you may miss.  Usually over dinner there’s more discussion and conversation.  

Because we’ve done our research, and talked with your key players before I come, I have an idea of the types of things you’d like to hear more about.  I share this with you in a presentation style event.  Sometimes it’s strictly a presentation, sometimes it is interactive – depending on your community! There is often a handout provided (online) that you can download at your leisure after I’m gone.  I encourage everyone to sign up for our weekly newsletters as well – there’s lots of information you will use.  We also have a private Facebook group you will be able to participate in and learn from.  Finally, you may wish to consider our Megaphone or Insider membership.  

When I come for an embedded community experience we begin the process with you of Gather Your Crowd and teach you how to use the Idea Friendly method.  We encourage you to bring together positive people to crowd-source the future of your town.  The old way of deciding the future was done by organizations and government, our new way is done by everyone.  The old way had someone in control, our new way is to get as many people as possible trying new things.  I show you how to Build Connections and Take Small Steps.

If it sounds informal, that is because it is.  Intentionally.  Because I want you to have practical steps you can put into action right away.  I’m not there to help you create a master plan that then goes back on a shelf to be dusted off 5 years later and rewritten.  I also want everyone in the community who wants to participate to be valued and welcomed.  Each embedded community experience is tailored to the needs of your community and what works for you.  

Important Speaking Appearances:

  • TEDx Brookings
  •  Inaugural Rural X Summit, keynote speaker
  •  Michigan Small Town and Rural Development Conference, keynote speaker
  • Mid America Chamber Executives (MACE)
  • 140 Character Conferences – NYC, Cohost – Iowa, Host – Small Town, Cohost
  • Historic Preservation Summit Iowa
  • Western Area Chamber Executives Conference, Los Angeles,  small town keynote speaker
  • Iowa Byways
  • Misfit Conference
  • MidStates Economic Development Conference, keynote speaker
  • Stuart, Iowa Chamber Dinner, keynote speaker
  • Central Iowa Tourism, keynote speaker
  • Southern Illinois Economic Development Conference
  • Roscommon County, Michigan keynote speaker
  • Western Iowa Tourism
  • Milbank, South Dakota keynote speaker
  • Iowa Museum Association
  • Webinars:

  • Rural Economic Development Webinar – Blaine, Canada and Pro Learning Laboratory
  • SaveYour.Town Webinars Monthly with Becky McCray
  • National Realtors Association Webinar with Tyler Abens

What’s your next step?  You can check out the FAQ page or go directly to the Book Deb page!

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Deb Brown, Speaker

Schedule 2017

January 9, Monday, 5 to 7 pm
K’é – A Place to Grow Small Business
126 Main Street, Downtown Mesa, AZ
Downtown After Five: Bringing Life to Your Downtown After Hours
Open to small business owners, sponsored by Pamela Slim, free to attend

February 1, Wednesday, 11 am to 12:15 pm
Western Association of Chamber Executives
Marriott Los Angeles Airport
5855 West Century Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 95812
Small Chambers – They’re in a League of Their Own
Small chambers have their own unique challenges and opportunities. This workshop will discuss and explore how to evaluate the need to dump events holding you hostage, how to prove your relevance to the business community, how to jump into the larger arena of playing a bigger role in economic development, and how fun-sized chambers can enjoy a larger percentage of businesses as members. Presentation, panel discussion and roundtable formats will be utilized during the day.

February 22 and 23, 2016
Monroe County Economic Development Conference
WI Military Academy – Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin
Bringing More Life and Activity to Your Downtown After 5  on Wednesday
Creating A Successful Future for Your Town and Businesses on Thursday
Join Deb Brown as she shares ideas other communities have used to create a vibrant town and stories of successful small businesses and how they got that way.  The future is yours to decide and Deb will weave a tale of others who are creating vibrant futures right now.  Listen for ideas and suggestions you can take back to your own community and put into place right away.  There will be time for questions as well!

Sallisaw, Oklahoma
March 27-29
Embedded visit

March 30 and 31
Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Tulsa, OK
What Can I Do?
This session with be very much hands on, a sharing of ideas that work and a discussion of new ideas we can all try to grow our local businesses and work together. Takeaways: How to partner with local businesses so all parties win; Small steps your town can take towards growth; What Can I Do? – How to make your way of being resonant with the community.

April 5 and 6
Mid States Economic Development Conference
Marina Inn, South Sioux City, NE


April 19 and 20
Creating Entrepreneurial Communities (CEC) 

McCook, Nebraska

May 4
Mid-America Chamber Executives Conference
Innovative Rural Business Models
Sioux Falls, SD

June 6-8
Rural Arts and Culture Summit
The Role of Arts and Culture in Talent Attraction and Retention
Morris, Minnesota

June 8-10
Preserve Iowa Summit
Community Buy-In and Preservation
Fort Dodge, Iowa

June 27
Social Media Breakfast
Keynote: Idea Friendly Towns
Albert Lea, MN

July 18 and 19
Rural X Summit
Aberdeen, SD
Keynote Presentation and Closing

July 20
Empower! South Dakota
Faulkton, SD
Conversation in Action

  • Pending: Waseca, MN embedded community experience
  • Pending: Brady, TX embedded community experience
  • Pending: Akron, Iowa embedded community experience
  • Pending: forum and community visits, Tennessee, August 2017
  • Pending: community betterment conference, Missouri, October 2017
  • Pending: community visit, Pennsylvania, fall 2017
  • Pending: Main Street event, Oklahoma, fall 2017