I'd like to introduce you to someone I know. She is in her early 30's. She is married to someone about the same age. They have one young child and would like more children one day. She runs her own business. Her husband has a career with a manufacturer. They both have postsecondary education. They currently live in a community in southern Michigan but are from Northeast Michigan and have family in this area.
Two weeks ago she made a very meaningful and powerful statement. After I had posted my last column on my Facebook and Twitter pages, she wrote in response, "And these types of decisions make people like myself want to move back to Alpena."
My column two weeks ago was about the choice you have after a decision is made. In that column I mentioned three examples of decisions that are going to have significant impacts on the community and will require us to support them if we want to experience the greatest positive economic impacts. I had mentioned the proposed plaza, the branding effort, the management decision at Northern Lights Arena.
So what kind of decisions are these that would cause someone to respond in the way she did? For some, these are controversial and difficult decisions to support. Each decision could lead to a significant amount of change. But I don't think those were the characteristics of these decisions that she was referring to. I think she was talking about the idea that these "types of decisions" are proactive, and forward-thinking. These are the types of decisions that attract her particular demographic, among others, to an area because of what they create. These decisions can change the perception others have of a community because these types of decisions create action, togetherness, and a sense of pride. And those things are very important to younger generations as they choose where they will live.
I have no doubts that: our area schools would love to have more children in their buildings; a higher level of educational attainment would be a good thing for this area; increasing the skilled workforce would be a benefit to our businesses and economy; my friend's family is representative of dozens of others who feel the same way; the three choices I mentioned are just three of hundreds that could be made to create what those generations are looking for.
So why do we sometimes fight that? If the demand is for more actions that are proactive and forward thinking, why shouldn't we make those kinds of decisions? Because it means change and change is not easy. But it is easier to accept change and make these types of decisions when you don't lose sight of the bigger picture.
I think she very clearly and powerfully illustrated the bigger picture for us in her statement. The bigger picture says that even though there will be some change and even though you may have to change your routine or challenge your level of comfort, the bigger picture is that there are people who are watching what is going on and who are waiting for more decisions like this to be made because they want to come to a progressive, proactive, and forward-thinking community that is making decisions just like those.
The opposing argument to this is that we shouldn't cater to "outsiders." if we have locals who don't want something, we shouldn't do it. That's not a good enough argument for me. Status quo is not the answer. You can't have both status quo and attract the demographic my friend represents. Status quo is not what that demographic wants. And even though the change that making these types of decisions may create can be scary, what is scarier to me is what happens if we stick with status quo.
My friend told me they are so excited about things going on in this area that they want to put their house on the market and move here as soon as possible. Let's stand behind those "types of decisions" and see what happens. I hope you get to meet her and her family in person sooner than later.
Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.