A year of opportunity

Published 7:38 am Friday, December 31, 2010

If 2010 was the year of petty distractions for elected officials in Western Tidewater, what if 2011 becomes the year of bold leadership?

If 2010 was the year of job loss, what if 2011 is remembered as the year of job creation?

The beauty of a new year is the blank slate we’re given as individuals and as a community to create a better future.

The opportunities are boundless. The reasons for optimism are tangible.

The first quarter likely will bring news of the repurposing of Franklin’s dormant paper mill. The resulting jobs won’t replace those eliminated by International Paper Co. in 2010, but the announcement of a few hundred jobs will do wonders for the community’s collective psyche.

Community leaders and economic developers should view mill repurposing as a head start on the creation of a new economy and new identity that will sustain Western Tidewater for generations.

It won’t be easy. Success rarely is.

As a community, let’s resolve to think big and act unconventionally. The traditional approach to economic development — partnering with regional and state organizations and counting on those relationships to bring us prospective industries — still has its place.

Successful communities, however, don’t wait on or depend on the help of others. They chart their own economic course.

In Western Tidewater, we are blessed with smart, industrious, creative people whose ideas and talents should be tapped. The history of our community has shown time and again that the best jobs are homegrown. The next Camp brothers and the next Roger Drake likely live among us. Let’s find them, listen to their ideas and invest as a community in the best ones.

In recognition of the fact that manufacturing jobs are dwindling in America, let’s consider other sectors as potential economic identities.

Retirement living will be big business for the next several decades thanks to the huge Baby Boomer demographic. Western Tidewater’s quiet, rural lifestyle, pleasant climate and proximity to metropolitan areas for specialized health care and other conveniences make our area a prime spot for retirees. They won’t come unless we invite them. That requires aggressive marketing.

The service and technology sectors, by all accounts, will continue to thrive in the coming decades. One company has had success opening physician call centers in former mill towns. Let’s invite them to Franklin.

City Councilman Greg McLemore was derided by the community’s leadership class a few months back for his seemingly farfetched idea of making Franklin a “Solar City.” As one of my favorite letter writers, Joe Stutts, said on this page at the time, at least give McLemore credit for having a plan.

The community needs to hear more of them from its leadership in 2011, a year that, if we grasp the opportunity, will be remembered as the launching point of Western Tidewater’s new economy.