Now that the Ozark Trail Festival is successfully behind me, I am ready to turn my attention to some of the items we’ve discussed here before, mainly our youth and the future of our communities.
I once had a person tell me she had no problem with me doing this job as long as I bring industry into the county. Well, first of all, that all sounds great, but it’s not entirely realistic. Although there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t research trends in industry and the movement of same, the reality is that during the instability across the nation due to changes in healthcare mandates, companies are waiting for a clear path through the maze of options available to them and their employees. Like it or not, the Patient Protection Act (PPA) is one of the largest changes Americans have ever seen and it will take time and patience to work through it. Furthermore, of the 300 or so businesses or industries considering moves this year, there are 35,000 communities competing for them.
I recently had the opportunity to complete the Community Development Institute at UCA which is part of a three year continuum class for those wanting to learn more about upward trends in America’s communities. One of the things I heard repeatedly was the fact that new industry is not where community leaders should be focusing their efforts. . In fact, every instructor emphasized the importance of assisting existing business and industry in our communities to keep a healthy workforce ready and available every year. Most small communities throughout America are experiencing “Brain Drain” or, the notion that our youngest and brightest only grow up to leave the hometown for bigger and better opportunities. Although this may be true in some cases, there are still a lot of opportunities for our young locally if they are prepared with a good work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit.
One of the most important clues of rural community survival is a willingness to invest in the future through a deliberate transition of power to a younger generation of leaders. Youth is the main resource for rural America, and we must utilize this valuable resource better. Many assume our young want to leave their hometown in the rearview mirror, but this is not the case. Recent studies show that amongst 400,000 rural students, 50% have reported they picture themselves returning to their rural communities. In this same study, only 35% of youth felt adults were asking for their input in how to shape their community. This attitude needs to change to include the youth by engaging them and inviting them to have a personal connection to the success of their community.
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Many things go into a good plan for the future of our communities. Locally, we can depend on the quality of life of which many can’t boast. We also have evidence of community pride as well as a strong belief in and support for education. We have the foundation, but to go forward we must get the young people involved. It’s up to us to revitalize the leadership base through the younger generation. By doing this, we will keep more of our youth local and make for a human resource at the same time.
I’m looking forward to opportunities of working with our county’s youth through Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and mentoring programs. I will be reaching out again to our local schools, universities, business and industry leaders in an effort to collaborate a system that will encourage our youth to use resources available here at home. Let’s get them involved in meaningful projects and cultivate a younger generation of leaders. At the same time we will help those 50% who want to stay local – stay.
Cleburne County Economic Developer Dara Samuel of Heber Springs writes her “Let’s Talk” column on Fridays. She can be reached at 300 W. Main in Heber Springs and at 501-362-8402.