When Jason and I discussed my writing a "McDuffie Ink" column a few weeks back, I started thinking about what I might write that would be of interest.
Perhaps it should be the latest on what local industries are doing in 2004, or what the Chamber or Tourism Boards have planned in the next 12 to 18 months. You know ... the new guy with details on development. Well, let's explore that here, but from a slightly different point of view.
A couple of weekends ago, about 30 unsuspecting folks representing all sorts of enterprises in McDuffie County, convened in Warm Springs, Georgia to start the 16th annual edition of Leadership McDuffie (http://www.thomson-mcduffie.org/leadershipmcduffie.htm). Maybe you've been involved in one of these annual classes. I had been asked to attend before but always found an excuse to graciously pass my invitation along to someone else. Well, the office I share with Carolyn Gilbert, Chamber Director, is not exactly the optimum spot for shirking a request to get involved, so I signed right up.
The opening retreat is designed to accomplish several things:
Getting to know one another in a low-pressure setting.
A refresher on how the diversity of any group or community will be a constant challenge
The "informing" session ... the good and the bad.
Finally, looking at McDuffie's strengths and weaknesses, positives and negatives ... as they might be seen through an outsider's eyes.
As regards the "positives" portion of that last point above, did you know that when an outsider looks at the McDuffie County Airport, he or she sees one of the most up-to-date facilities in the entire Southeast, not just Georgia? Most of us know we have a new terminal, but facilities that compare with those in cities and towns much larger than Thomson? That's what a visitor sees.
Did you also know that on 60 percent of the weekends in 2004, there is an event scheduled in our community that brings people in for overnight stays, including horse riding, fishing tournaments, youth softball/baseball events, the Masters, the annual Bike Ride Across Georgia, and the like. Tourists! Another opportunity for visitors to get a look at us and for McDuffie to leverage a few strengths: location, facilities, and an "inviting" community (we're well known for this one!).
During the opening retreat weekend, we also discussed community areas that need work or that are in decline -- the weaknesses. We re-discovered during our weekend away that we have good, solid school facilities, both current and proposed, peppered with first-rate teachers and leadership throughout. Certainly strengths. Yet, our drop out rate is higher than the state's rate. Perhaps this statistic contributes to the county's higher than average poverty level or lower than average per capita income? What could the root cause be for this "negative" and do we try and improve it or not?
There were many other comparisons/discussions with regard to how we stack up against our neighbors. Do we have a vibrant center city? Are commercial buildings or industrial properties or even the houses in which we live well maintained or are they headed toward being eyesores? Is our crime rate or the make-up of this rate troublesome? How will any of these questions impact a family or a business thinking of relocating to Thomson.
The challenge put before our group was to look at these good and bad characteristics from an outsider's point of view and get involved where we might make a positive contribution. There have been 16 classes of Leadership McDuffie. There will likely be many more. Suppose we could magically harness the energy and ideas of each citizen -- Leadership McDuffie graduates or not -- and continue to tell our story when it's positive, and improve the things that need to change.
That may be the point when true community development climbs to a new level with involved citizens and leaders working together to capitalize on our many strengths. Thomson-McDuffie has an enviable record of just such community cooperation across our region and one we should be proud of.
But there is more work to be done addressing the need for improvement in areas that may have slipped while we were too busy or too close to notice.