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Street Talk

By Mickey Howley

It is officially summer and at the Farmers Market produce is coming in strong. Have you had your first vine-ripened tomato sandwich yet this year? If not, you should go early to the Farmers Market this Saturday, it is going on from 9 to noon in Railroad Park. There’s plenty of just picked prime produce and the taste of super fresh is hard to beat. Local farmers have been working all spring for this moment and it is a joy to see what they have grown. 

Last week I took a ride around the state and dipped in Louisiana for a moment. The trip’s Mississippi portion was working with the Mississippi Development Authority in their Aspire Program. 

What is this Aspire thing you ask? 

Here’s what MDA says it is, “Aspire Mississippi is an application-based, results-oriented, data-driven leadership initiative. Designed to build greater capacity in Mississippi counties, it engages local stakeholders in relevant training and community-based projects, resulting in significant and sustainable community and economic development outcomes.” 

Yes, that’s a fun explanation.  Let’s just say it is similar to the Appalachian Regional Commission trainings that Water Valley did in 2008 and 2009. The Better Back Street and Driving the Valley projects were the results.  This time for MDA Aspire, Water Valley is the role model. There were two meetings last week, in Rolling Fork and Collins, with people from Carthage, Tylertown, and Monticello.

But even being the featured town, in listening to others speak, you hear new insights and still can learn. Mentioned was the Heartland Center for Leadership Development in Nebraska and their 20 clues to rural community survival. Here’s the 20 clues, each with an explanation sentence after. 

 1. Evidence of Community Pride. Successful communities are often showplaces of care, attention, history and heritage. 

2. Emphasis on Quality in Business and Community Life: People believe that something worth doing is worth doing right. 

3. Willingness to Invest in the Future: In addition to the brick-and-mortar investments, all decisions are made with an outlook on the future. 

4. Participatory Approach to Community Decision Making: Even the most powerful of opinion leaders seem to work toward building consensus. 

5. Cooperative Community Spirit: The stress is to work together toward a common goal and the focus is on positive results. 

6. Realistic Appraisal of Future Opportunities: Successful communities have learned how to build on strengths and minimize weaknesses. 

7. Awareness of Competitive Positioning: Local loyalty is emphasized, but thriving communities who know who their competitors are and position themselves accordingly. 

8. Knowledge of the Physical Environment: Relative location and available natural resources underscore decision-making. 

9. Active Economic Development Program: There is an organized, public/private approach to economic development. 

10. Deliberate Transition of Power to a Younger Generation of Leaders: People under 40 regularly hold key positions in civic and business affairs. 

11. Celebration of Diversity in Leadership: Women, minorities, youth and newcomers are welcomed into leadership circles where their ideas are treated as opportunities. 

12. Strong Belief in and Support for Education: Good schools are the norm and centers of community activity. 

13. Problem-Solving Approach to Providing Health Care: Health care is considered essential, and smart strategies are in place for diverse methods of delivery. 

14. Strong Multi-Generational Family Orientation: The definition of family is broad, and activities include younger as well as older generations. 

15. Strong Presence of Traditional Institutions that are Integral to Community Life: Churches, schools and service clubs are strong influences on community development and social activities. 

16. Sound and Well-Maintained Infrastructure: Leaders work hard to maintain and improve streets, sidewalks, water systems, and sewage facilities.

17. Careful Use of Fiscal Resources: Frugality is a way of life and expenditures are considered investments in the future. 

18. Sophisticated Use of Technology Resources: Leaders access information that is beyond the knowledge base available in the community. 

19. Willingness to Seek Help from the Outside: People seek outside help for community needs, and many compete for government grants and contracts for economic and social programs. 

20. Conviction that, in the Long Run, You Have to Do It Yourself: Thriving rural communities believe their destiny is in their own hands. Making their communities good places is a pro-active assignment, and they willingly accept it.

 Thanks for reading this far. I’d have to add, somewhere my top three would be nourishment, as in good food and good places to enjoy with friends.

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