An untapped resource

Published 4:58 pm Saturday, November 29, 2008

People often lament this community’s “brain drain” — that is, our best and brightest students who go off to college, find professional success elsewhere and never move back.

It’s not unique to Franklin and Western Tidewater. Small towns everywhere grapple with the problem.

It occurred to me while having breakfast recently with one of our “expatriates” that Franklin has an opportunity to distinguish itself from other towns and turn this group from a source of frustration and regret into a resource.

That first requires abandoning the notion that we’ll somehow convince them all to move back. It’s not going to happen. For reasons ranging from professional to family, most of these native sons and daughters are settled elsewhere and won’t be back, at least as residents.

Yet, for many of them, Franklin remains — and always will be — “home.”

They love this community and appreciate the foundation it gave them for success later in life. They want to give back — and often do in the form of charitable contributions to churches and nonprofit groups.

Franklin should give them another way to give back, and I bet that many would accept the invitation.

I envision an advisory group that would convene a couple of times a year — and communicate by e-mail between meetings — for the purpose of helping the community create a long-term plan for prosperity.

This group would complement, not replace, local elected and appointed leadership. In floating this idea, I intend no jab at the latter, who work tirelessly and effectively on behalf of their community.

These challenging economic times, though, demand creative thinking and a harnessing of resources in rural America. The trends are not encouraging. Rural-to-urban/suburban migration is accelerating. The agricultural and low-skill manufacturing jobs that have sustained small-town America for generations are being replaced by technology or leaving the country altogether for lower-wage economies.

A handful of small towns will survive and prosper in the new American economy. Many will flounder.

Most communities will hire outside consultants and pay big bucks for strategic plans that sit on the shelf and gather dust. We’ve tried that approach, too.

Why not tap a resource that’s just as smart, more loyal and will work for a heckuva lot cheaper — perhaps as little as a nice dinner twice a year?

The talent and brainpower that could be assembled is mind-boggling.

Scores, if not hundreds, of Franklin natives are succeeding at the highest levels of business, government, academia and military service in this country. They’ve had first-hand experience with companies, organizations, communities and economies that are thriving. More important, they understand Franklin — its strengths and its limitations — in a way that no outside consultant ever could. Imagine the power of a single brainstorming session, much less an ongoing effort.

I scanned the membership roster of the Franklin Rotary Club recently and immediately made a mental list of 15 adult children of Rotarians who’d make terrific members of such an advisory group. That’s barely scratching the surface.

Know of someone who might be willing to serve? Call or e-mail me, and I’ll compile a list to pass along to the powers-that-be. From that long list, surely a dozen or so would welcome the opportunity to give back to a hometown that gave so much to them.