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There’s something in the air lately

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Economic development seems to be in the air of late.

By way of a letter to the editor in our local paper a few issues back, a concerned resident from Pleasureville asked that the folks around town get together to discuss ways to revitalize the city. Apparently, they did exactly that at their last city meeting, and I say good for them.

Moreover, the situation in Eminence — the razing of old buildings for the construction of a new chain drug store and fast food restaurant — has sparked a debate over what kind of “development” is appropriate.

A new organization was established a few months ago, charged with the mission of promoting economic development. It is known as the Henry County Economic Development Council and is made up of good, well-meaning people, some of whom I know personally.

If I am not mistaken, this is the second or third such group that has been formed in the past 25 years or so. It seems that these previous groups started off with much hoopla, and, after a time, faded away.

My hunch is that these earlier efforts fizzled out because, upon inception, everyone immediately dropped to their knees and began praying for a new Toyota plant to come save us. I hope this is not the primary focus of this new group. But I do hope that education, sustainability and reviving our small towns are.

Instead of putting all our eggs in one basket, let’s think outside the box and start from the bottom up.

One of the positive things about this new assembly is that it seems to be making education an important component of a development plan. A recent issue of this paper reported on the council’s participation in the Work Ready Community program.

One of the program’s requirements for eligibility is that 32 percent of adults ages 18-64 in a particular county must have an associate’s degree or higher. This is a daunting challenge here, where the percentage is a distressing 18.6 percent.
It is particularly vexing when the next county over (Oldham) has the highest rate in the state at 43.5 percent.

I am pleased that this council is taking education seriously. Far too many people in our neck of the woods consider schools to be glorified day-care centers and teachers no more than overpaid baby-sitters.

We live in a beautiful rural county in which one of the most well known advocates of sustainability in the world calls home. We are located a stone’s throw from three large urban centers.

Would it be that difficult to make an all out effort to promote our county, our community, as the primary center for the sustainability movement in the Commonwealth?

Why are we so reluctant to embrace what seems so obvious, so readily obtainable?

How many storefronts could we fill; how active might our streets become if we earnestly undertook this endeavor?

Finally, and most importantly, we should rediscover who we are and take advantage of what we have.  I believe that the critical piece for the economic development of our community is the revitalization of our small towns.
Let’s nurture the businesses we have left.

Let’s clean our towns up — and I don’t mean installing some historically inaccurate (but cute) streetlights and a few feet of ‘Ye Olde Brick’ sidewalk.
I’m talking about putting new businesses inside vacant buildings, people on the streets and providing incentives for folks to renovate some of our fine old residences.

Call it gentrification if you like, but in my humble opinion it beats spinning our wheels trying to lure a new widget factory that pays its workers $12 an hour and provides no benefits.

Education, sustainability and localization will have finally intersected when no one questions why it is better to buy that hammer at Perry’s Hardware instead of Wal-Mart.

Snagging a large manufacturing plant would seem to be ‘just the ticket’ for an economic fix. After all, many places no more special or deserving than we are have one. Those places probably have a McDonald’s and a CVS, too.