November 25, 2009 At the crossroads is an overused and possibly overly dramatic expression to use at present but it's an image at the forefront of my mind these days. The way I picture it, our communities are sitting at an intersection while waiting for the 'wide loads' of state government, manufacturing and the auto industry to lumber down the road, searching for direction and respite. Whether or not they have strategies remains to be seen, but that shouldn't stop us from striking out on our own.
Once they hit cruising speed and at least pass by, it's our turn to venture out, but where will this region head?
When I picture those crossroads I see 'city' on one half of the sign and 'country' on the other. For awhile, those two have intersected without too many fender-benders. Residents and community leaders have appreciated the area's rural heritage and welcomed new industry in the name of diversity and growth.
Unfortunately, we've had to ride along on the rough road manufacturing and the auto industry are motoring down now. Travel is definitely bumpy and, at moments, I wonder if we're better off to retreat from the city and burbs and re-group solely around what's really native. Maybe then we can insulate ourselves from more road blocks? Doubt it. Exclusivity and insulation rarely prove successful.
Instead, let's meld the best of both worlds and take a fresh, non-traditional look at our efforts to honor the past and stay competitive for the future.
What are a few staples from urban life we should borrow?
Technology. When it comes to the Internet, quality wireless service would be ideal. It's the way business is done these days, whether you're a farmer or stock broker.
Placemaking. Genera-tion Y rates their personal and social life with the same importance as finding a quality job. Things like improving public spaces, fostering the arts and offering recreational and service opportunities that allow citizens to interact and connect.
Diversity. Embracing the unique cultures and people that make us who we are today instead of expecting assimilation. Ethnic groups' food, celebrations and festivals are great starting points to turn a place into a 'destination.'
Then there are the tenets of rural life to remind ourselves of.
Open space. Maintaining and preserving open space and farmland can be done by adhering to smart land use principles. This has to be one of the easiest ways to maintain the physical characteristics of this region that people openly admire.
Local talent. The small business owners and cottage industries can't be overlooked. These are independent and creative entrepreneurs who are committed to and invested in the community. Those that are family-owned can be great magnets for keeping the next generation in our communities.
Agriculture. The manufacturing machines might be shuttered but what about a transition to food production and processing or even small-scale biofuel creation? Tools like kitchen incubators would be ideal for growers of fruit, vegetables and grains to diversify and create value-added products.
Our potential rivals the size of a Greyhound bus...is everyone ready to board?
Email Maria at
Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.