|Mon, Mar 10, 2014 03:16 AM
January 29, 2014 | 10:12 AM
Sometimes things happen that just can't be a mere coincidence.
Take the visitors who arrived during a meeting at O'Bannon Publishing Co. on Jan. 17. The newsroom staff and we were deeply involved in a discussion about the future of Harrison and Crawford counties. The issues of vacant storefronts, lack of high-speed Internet and the need for good-paying jobs were being discussed. We kept referencing specific cases and exact places in our rather lamenting conversation. We questioned the local business climate, current economic conditions and changing trends in urban and rural living.
Amidst the somewhat pessimistic talk came visitors to our door bearing gifts. A young man and woman handed us large trays of meat loaf, a Hot Brown casserole and a variety of desserts. Now how often does that happen on a winter day? They came as ambassadors from The Spread, the newly opened buffet at Horseshoe Southern Indiana casino at Bridgeport. As they put this amazing meal before us, they told of the variety of dining and entertainment offerings to be had at the riverboat.
One of us asked them, "Why would you drive clear to Corydon with such a generous gift?" It was clear to them, they responded, that our community is a logical place to do business. We are part of their neighborhood. Their employees come from Harrison and Crawford counties, among others; some of their guests come from here; and, if we flourish, they flourish. We are on the same team, in the same county, with mutual interests and concerns. Quite often we think of the casino as a "big industry" and we just connect with it when the allotted profits spread over into our community foundation.
We had been talking about individual segments of the total picture in community development before their visit. After they left, we extended the scope of our inquiry to beyond our downtowns or one segment of infrastructure. We addressed the broader regional picture. We are part of a larger area and no individual person or organization can sustain change and improvement. It is a comprehensive and complex system we live in.
The fact that Laconia received a planning grant recently to envision their opportunities should interest all of us. We all survive or decline together. A retail area cannot survive without housing for people who would buy products and use services. Good schools need healthy children, involved working parents and cultural amenities. A business will locate to an area with a trained workforce, good schools, medical services, transportation and folks with spending money in their pockets.
A couple dozen or so townspeople, along with some residents who live just outside of Laconia and some who are property owners there, gathered Thursday night to learn more about the opportunity this $40,000 grant from the Community Development Block Grant program offers.
Not only did they have the opportunity to learn how the process for implementing the grant works, they were asked to take part in a couple of exercises.
One involved a map of the town and colored markers. In small groups, after being told to disregard costs at this time, they were asked to indicate on the map of this town of about 50 people, what structures they believe should be eliminated or refurbished. They could mark where they would like to see streetlights and sidewalks added.
This "visioning workshop" gave them the opportunity to dream of what their town could be.
They also were asked to compile a list of the issues that are most important to them that need to be addressed and what facilities, if any, are lacking in the town. Even two boys in attendance were asked to offer their thoughts.
You get the picture.
The Laconia Town Council has put together a steering committee to work on the project that could take eight to nine months to finalize a completed plan for the Indiana Office of Community of Rural Affairs, the overseer of the block grant, to review before the plan is implemented.
This is just an example of how it takes everyone working together to make a community sustainable.
We need the downtown merchants association but they can't develop the retail sector by themselves. We need the Main Street program but it can't revive the county without partnering with other active groups. We need the Chamber of Commerce, the school systems, the hospital, the parks, the convention and visitors bureau and the tourism bureau, the religious institutions and the service clubs and sports interests working together, as well as in their own areas of concern. A complete and livable community needs all bases covered.
We, as organizations and communities, aren't in competition. WE ARE THE TEAM.