Here’s a Way to Hurt a Community

One aspect of the difficulties of promoting economic growth for Prowers County, attracting new business and touting the county as a potential new home for future employees came to light during the Prowers Economic Prosperity, PEP, board meeting this past Tuesday, May 7th.
Craig Loveless, Chief Executive Officer of Prowers Medical Center, shared a portion of an email letter with board members which dramatized one aspect of the difficulties of growing or maintaining a business. Providing background on the situation, Loveless explained that the hospital had interviewed a candidate for a physician’s assistant to work with PMC’s new orthopedic surgeon. They were working in a major metropolitan city in Texas. “This candidate interviewed well with us and left us with a signed offer to return and start to work. At their last visit, she brought back a friend to help with house-hunting but after the visit, emailed us and declined the offer.” He explained, “She was completely happy with her new position at the hospital and was ready to go to work, but during that visit, she encountered some pushback from some of our residents in the area.”
He explained the person stated that the job was everything she had been looking for professionally, but felt the area would not be a good fit on a personal level. After speaking informally with about a dozen random people during her visit, she believed she would not be able to enjoy her lifestyle in the community as a single woman and would struggle socially. Loveless added, “She was basically talked out of coming here by people in our own community and she was told this was not a good community for young people.”
Interim PEP Executive Director, Cheryl Sanchez read from a pamphlet entitled “13 Ways to Kill a Community”. They were: Forget the water, don’t attract business, don’t engage youth, deceive yourself, shop elsewhere, don’t cooperate, live in the past, don’t paint, shut out your senior citizens, reject everything new, ignore outsiders, grow complacent and ignore responsibility.
“Ignore outsiders; we do have a lot of work to do in that area. It’s unfortunate that someone would come here and we do not sell our community and it’s up to everyone who has employees that we need to be encouraging them to talk positively about our area,” she added.
Board member, Rick Robbins, manager of Colorado Mills commented, “This is the biggest hurdle I think all of us individually and professionally encounter in our businesses. Somehow we have to convey to people we work with, the excitement of where we work and live instead of asking, ’Why are you in Lamar?’”
PEP President, Aaron Leiker, added that he and his wife have encountered that line of questioning in the past. “They ask her more than me, as she is from outside this area, ‘Why are you remaining in the community and not going back to a larger city’?” He added that most of the negative comments center on the lack of a social life for people between the ages of 18 to 35.
Sanchez agreed, adding that current demographics indicate the community is losing people right in their middle ages and it’s those age groups that we should be attempting to have move to our region. “We have to have those people to make this a better and more viable community,” she stated.
Leiker mentioned the possibility of an open, round-table dialogue similar to one explained by Christy Hopkins, Economic Development Director for Tribune, Kansas who attended the PEP annual meeting earlier this year. He said it would be a means of opening a discussion to some of the negatives people cast about the lifestyle in the community and how to address it. Another board member said that historically, most people who take those negative views rarely attend a meeting of that nature and don’t bother contributing anything positive.
Leiker referenced a past discussion in which Rick Robbins stated, “You can’t be happy with the status quo in small town community life. Status quo doesn’t exist there. It means people aren’t growing, moving either forward or going backward. There’s no middle ground in this. While businesses are struggling to get by and owners say they’re happy with the way things are, they aren’t’ going to survive in the long run.”
The next monthly PEP board meeting will be held Tuesday, June 4th and will incorporate an Eastern Plains Economic Development Tour at the Lamar Community College Wellness Center at approximately 12:30pm. Sanchez added that representatives from the State Department of Local Affairs, Office of Economic Development and International Trade as well as Small Business Development Center will be on hand for a general presentation from 10am to 1pm and available later for individual questions regarding specific programs for business development.
PEP is one of several sponsors who will bring renowned business speaker, Jon Schallert, a Desitnation Business Expert, to the community the following day, June 5th for his presentation from 7:30am to 3pm. This will be a conference for business owners, local officials and citizens who want to make their downtowns and/or business a destination. Registration information is available through SECED at 719-336-3850.
By Russ Baldwin


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