When I first moved to Alpena I was certain I wouldn't live here very long. I didn't see a future here, I was young and I knew I'd be returning to college some day. So it only seemed logical that my time here would be short lived. My parents grew up here, we came here a lot when I was a kid and stayed at our cottage on Long Lake, but I didn't think I'd call Alpena home.
Well, we can see how that turned out though I will never say never because we don't know what the future holds.
One thing that is repeated like some sort of mantra is we need to keep our young people in town. Yes, and no. I have a point, honest.
We need our best and brightest to make Alpena home. But (and it's a big but), young people want to see the world and experience things. And who can blame them? On top of that, we need something that will keep them here, mainly good-paying jobs. When you are young, however, your home town isn't where you want to be.
Most of my friends spent time away from Alpena and now have moved back and are raising families here. They are all better for the experience elsewhere, and are now contributing to our community. Those experiences shaped them, but they also realized what Alpena had to offer and that it's a great place to live.
So we find ourselves in a dilemma: We need our young people, but we really need them to experience life. The trouble is we need to have the right reasons for them to come back and help Alpena thrive. If we don't have the right draw then they don't come back when we need them most as people who can help make this place greater when they still have the energy of youth and the experience that comes with age.
Small business drives the economy, especially in a small town. We need the right kinds of small business - and for the record, manufacturing jobs and the like can and are small businesses, too - to help drive our economy forward. We need our best and brightest to help, either by building those businesses or by helping those businesses move forward.
In the same breath, we need them to experience life outside of Alpena. We need them to learn to appreciate what this town has to offer; we need them to learn the things needed to contribute to a community; we need them to have their love for their home town shine through so they find their way back home.
There are some good things that could be on the horizon. The drone project, if it came to Alpena, would be a huge boost. While that alone would be a shot in the arm, the ancillary businesses that could spring from it could put the economy into overdrive. And those are the types of jobs that keep - or bring back - our best and brightest young people. We aren't talking businesses that would employee hundreds of people, far from it. But the types of jobs they would produce would be good-paying jobs; the types of jobs that make people put down roots.
These are the types of jobs that people who want to live here could have and feel financial security, and the peace of mind that comes from living in a town like Alpena. These are the kinds of jobs people looking for a great place to live are seeking.
If Alpena lands the drone project, great. It still isn't a guarantee all of our young people will return home. It also doesn't signal the end of trying to bring in good-paying jobs. If we don't get it, we can't just throw up our arms and surrender. We need to keep on working to find the magic elixir.
Jobs aren't the only thing people are looking for when they stray, but if we have the jobs then we are that much closer.
Once you've experienced things in life, you start to realize what is important to you. Alpena should be able to provide a lot of those things. We just need to make sure we are able to use all the plays in our playbook.