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The question we need to ask in tackling our projects is how to create sustainable economic growth - growth that won't succumb to a boom-bust cycle. Or, if the jobs created are in a sector that have a life cycle tied to an industry, how can we responsibility plan for that life cycle so that we don't end up with underutilized infrastructure and unemployment at the end of the industry cycle?
Tell us about your work in your community
My work currently focuses on the community, so they go hand in hand. When I first moved to my community seven years ago, I was a mid-career level journalist coming to a small town. It wasn't the path I thought my career would take, but my family was moving to the place we wanted to be and I was lucky to find a job in my field. As a small town community journalist, I felt an obligation to my neighbors to cover news and information that reflected the issues of concern we are facing as well as our collective joys and victories. I enjoyed that my job felt more like a community service than it had before when I worked in larger areas. But in covering issues so closely, I began to care more about the future of the community and the issues that affected it. Without opportunities to expand my journalism career, I decided to get involved in more direct service and was elected to our local governing board. After a time in that arena, I became the executive director and sole employee of the newly formed Haines Economic Development Corporation. Under the direction of a volunteer board of directors, I am now responsible for implementing our community's five-year economic development strategy and initiatives.
Tell us a story about a time you brought people together to improve your community.
I could point to a few different initiatives I shepherd during my time on the local governing board, namely helping to initiate a task force to examine the future of our solid waste management and recycling programs. I served as chair of the task force. Now, 18 months later, the governing board is preparing to vote on the comprehensive recommendations and plan that was the result of that task force. But I'm also proud of my organization of a local Women's March in January 2017. The Women's March was a national movement after the last U.S. presidential election. The idea spread to most major cities and eventually smaller towns. It is risky to undertake anything politically charged in our small town. But in talking with a few friends, there seemed to be interest and almost a need to have a local march, there just wasn't anyone interested in initiating it. I stepped out into the open, made a few basic arrangements and it materialized. In our community of 1,500, we had about 300 people join the march that day. They spanned most demographics of the community. It remained a positive and energetic event even during a blizzard. The amount of participation was overwhelming. Three hundred people were willing to join the march; they just needed someone to step up and be the first person to say, "Let's do this." I think it improved the community because it brought a recognition between neighbors that many of us might have more in common than we realized. It also gave us a connection to the "outside world" when it's normally easy to become entrenched in our little corner of it.
What problems are you trying to solve?
The first issue we are addressing is providing information and education about economic development. We commissioned a baseline data report, the first comprehensive data compilation for our community in a decade. We are close to finishing our one- and five-year action plans for addressing specific economic development initiatives. These include an outreach campaign to engage the public in discussions about what economic development is. Other initiatives include addressing affordable housing, outlook and planning for future resource extraction activities in our community and working with our local government to explore ideas to address increasing utility and power costs.
What do you need to learn how to do in order to solve those problems?
I need to learn methodologies and strategies for analyzing data and using it in planning. But solutions for these issues are going to also need creativity. I hope in a program like this I learn creative ways of addressing economic development issues and initiatives through problem solving, planning and networking. I'm sure there are skills and resources that I don't know about yet that will be beneficial in addressing these issues; part of my wanting to join a program like this is to learn what I don't know I don't know. Our organization has discussed the difference and similarities in community development and economic development; in a small, rural community like ours, those two approaches often go hand in hand which is why this particular program seems like it would be well suited to the type of work our fledging organization hopes to accomplish. I am also hoping to create a network of mentors and colleagues - that type of network will broaden all of our reach and efforts, together, and help us continue learning past the duration of this program.
What are the most powerful questions you need to ask right now?
As part of our baseline data report, we conducted a statistically random telephone survey and an online survey that was open to as many people who wanted to take it. The results tracked very similar. Our community is most interested in our organization working to help create an environment for more year-round, high paying job opportunities and more resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners. The question we need to ask in tackling our projects is how to create sustainable economic growth - growth that won't succumb to a boom-bust cycle. Or, if the jobs created are in a sector that have a life cycle tied to an industry, how can we responsibility plan for that life cycle so that we don't end up with underutilized infrastructure and unemployment at the end of the industry cycle? On a very basic level, the question is always the same when dealing with any economic or community development issue; how do you maintain or improve the quality of life for your citizens while also creating sustainable solutions for the next generation?
If we all worked together, what do you imagine that we could achieve in the next five to ten years?
Working together and starting on the local level, we might begin addressing larger, global issues of climate change, energy consumption, economic insecurity and poverty, class stratification and the like. Solutions must start on a local level in order to take hold and spread, but it takes a strong, creative and inclusive network to begin the work. Building these networks, then bringing the ideas and initiatives to our own communities to help them grow may be the spark needed to make the work last. Five to ten years is ambitious to see the work "accomplished"; it will likely always be a work in progress. Solutions can evolve as problem-solving evolves; but it needs to start somewhere. If a "meaningful and lasting network" began to work on one of these initiatives, that dedication may pay off within 10 years in making steps of progress, making solutions more mainstream and making creativity more inclusive to those with ideas.