Editorial: Let’s embrace this
What do towns need to thrive in today’s global economy? How do we counter the loss of manufacturing jobs? How do we lay a solid economic foundation for tomorrow’s economy?
How do we prepare for things that we cannot yet know?
Here’s a suggestion: Let’s be part of communities that move forward.
Forget the details for a moment; embrace the concept.
(The blank space was not a typo: the purpose was for you to fill in the blank. To think about what “embracing the concept” means to you. If you skipped to here, go back and think about it before reading on.)
Thanks. Here’s what being a community that moves forward means to me:
• First, it means not sitting still. Any economist will tell you that if you do nothing to attract business to your community, eventually old businesses and industries die and jobs are lost. In rural America, if you don’t replace them, your town slowly declines. Recruitment of new job growth, then, is key to a healthy community. Maintaining existing jobs is important too, of course, but if that effort doesn’t match the loss of jobs — decline is inevitable. That’s just logic.
• It means being pro-active. It means laying the groundwork with forward-thinking town plans — industrial parks, adequate water-sewer capacity, land on which to build, viable downtowns and community centers, parks, wild spaces, recreational opportunities — and then setting about to bring those visions to life.
• It means cultivating community leaders. Without the work of these dedicated volunteers, our towns would be immeasurably poorer. It takes foresight to recruit and groom each new changing of the guard.
• It means getting personally involved. You can’t always sit on the sidelines and hope the town you live in magically moves in the direction you want. Take your turn; step forward.
• It means supporting an arts community rich with culture.
• It means embracing a “can-do” attitude. It means setting the bar higher, doing more than the minimum, exceeding where others might not venture. It requires setting goals, motivating others and collectively striving for a higher common good.
In Middlebury, current leadership on many fronts is being pro-active, and, for the most part, has been for many years. We have excellent town planning, room to grow, adequate infrastructure, industrial park space, an outstanding arts community, and a culture of community giving and volunteerism that is the envy of most.
Our shorting-coming has been in economic development. We’ve been stagnant for years and losing ground, and currently we have no person or office that considers recruitment of industry or new business its responsibility. There’s the Addison County Economic Development Corporation, but in recent months it’s been clear they believe their charge is to sustain existing business and help them grow internally, not recruit new businesses or industry. That’s fine as far as it goes, and their mission may be all consuming for that team, but it still leaves a gaping hole in the town’s ability to build and maintain a vibrant economy.
The town’s recent history is proof of that failed strategy.
Countering that one shortcoming has been an incredibly productive association between the town and college, and the town and the Better Middlebury Partnership. Working jointly with the college, a new town bridge was built in record time and on budget; and, in concert with the BMP, a new marketing effort will hopefully be launched this year that will bring additional revenue to town.
In both instances, those actions represent a town “moving forward,” a town that is taking its future in its hands and finding ways to overcome obstacles and create successes.
It is not always easy. Every active participant will face disappointment, become momentarily discouraged. But by keeping focus on the big picture, battles lost become obstacles to surmount, not reasons to abort community goals and values.
What’s to be fought is the attitude that the status quo is good enough; or that the best we can hope for is to keep the dwindling number of jobs we have; or that poor or unwanted development is tolerable; or that education (to broaden the conversation) costs too much already and there’s no way to improve outcomes without spending more. That’s setting the bar too low; that’s embracing mediocrity.
The flip-side is an attitude thing, a state of mind.
If you believe you can build a bridge on your own, work to make it happen. If you believe you can recruit new business and industry to replace lost jobs, why would anyone work to hinder those efforts? If community members pledge to move forward, if your school initiates programs to help students excel, if the local hospital launches a wellness and fitness crusade, if businesses share resources to help one another, if creative ideas are met with enthusiasm, you’ll be living in a town that will not only survive in today’s global economy — it will thrive.
Let’s embrace that.
Angelo S. Lynn