29 PARADISE LANE
I am constantly thinking about how small and medium sized local communities can defy the odds and transform themselves despite the odds not being in their favor. I am reminded of the famous line used many times in the movie series, The Hunger Games, that goes, “May the odds be ever in your favor”. At times I feel many of these local communities are doing a very poor job of assuring the odds of winning are in their favor. In fact, many seem to be bent upon assuring the odds are stacked against them.
Through my travels over the years, I am reminded of a couple communities that have defied the odds and stacked them in their favor. The first community that comes to mind is Ottawa, IL.
While I have mentioned Ottawa, IL. before in this column, let me reacquaint you with this town. Ottawa was a struggling town on the Illinois river about an hour or so from Chicago. There wasn’t much to do and most of the residents traveled north or east for entertainment and good restaurants. All that changed with a visionary Mayor that wouldn’t settle for the status quo. Despite fighting against the city council, he started cleaning up the heart of the city, their downtown. They started street-scaping, they started planting not only flowers, but a vision for the future. It wasn’t long and a business relocated to downtown. Then a second business, then a third. Each year brought more street-scaping, more flowers and plants, and more businesses. To make a long story short, Ottawa has become a destination where people from the north and the east, all directions for that matter now travel to Ottawa for nice dining, shopping, and entertainment. Ottawa has transformed itself from within through a hefty vision coupled with a lot of hard work and perseverance.
Another great example I like to point to is Dubuque, IA. Dubuque is a town located on the Mississippi river in Iowa. The town is really a city unto itself, with not really any major cities within 40-50 miles. While John Deere has a presence in Dubuque, the city was in a rut for quite some time. Many of the leaders in the city worked together over many years to plant the seeds of a brighter future. The local media company did what local media companies should do, they spread that vision often and consistently. The local media didn’t just report the negative news as it happened, they became the biggest cheerleader for the community. They spread the message far and wide, in essence became the conduit of information to the both the residents and the outside world. As more and more leaders and citizens caught the vision, progress was made, old buildings were either restored or torn down to be replaced by new and attractive buildings and parks. Thanks to a vision, hard work and a local media company that cared, Dubuque today is a vastly different and more vibrant town than yesteryear.
While I point out these two examples, I am sure there are many more like them scattered across our great country. With that said, I can also confidently say one thing. Many communities will never experience these types of dreams coming true because they think way too small and fail to dream big. You will never make a game-winning shot if you don’t take it. I am convinced that one of the biggest obstacles for most communities is the simple fact that they think too small. They are willing to settle for mild successes obtained on the road most traveled because they are safe roads with few obstacles in the way. It is those leaders willing to traverse the road less traveled, knowing that obstacles will be faced, that win the big prize.
My challenge to any community, regardless of size is to dream big, expect to win and play as if you will win. The only downside to dreaming big is you may not always win, but you will be battle hardened to keep moving forward on the next big idea. Be the community in the arena. Be the community that doesn’t dwell on their current negative conditions but keeps plowing ahead to change those conditions. Always strive for perfection, knowing that perfection is nearly impossible to attain. Understand in your quest for perfection, there is nothing wrong with falling short and settling for greatness – that is the trick to winning.
John Newby is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Chambers, Communities, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column appears in 60+ newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media, and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at: John@Truly-Local.org.