A recent story in The New York Times has given both proponents and detractors of our beloved Longview much fodder for discussion. Nothing gets local folks stirring like an outsider’s look at our town on the yet-to-be-discovered “eastern plains” of Texas, wherever that’s supposed to be.
Even if the “facts” of the article are skewed, they do speak to a more precise point: Many of our young people leave for college or jobs and never come back. We should be under no illusion that we can all get together, sing kumbaya and make young people stay here. We honestly shouldn’t even waste much time on that notion.
What we should do is focus on ways we can make our community more desirable to young people who are open to or wish to be in the area, as well as those looking to relocate. Doing so will also serve to make the area more attractive to companies as they entertain Longview as a destination for an investment of any kind.
So, how do we do this? In short, we do it by focusing on what we have and what we can do, not on how we can one day become Dallas, Houston, Austin or San Antonio.
For one, nearly all major cities exist on some port, be it river or ocean. The Sabine River simply cannot help us there — nor can Lake O’ The Pines or Lake Cherokee for that matter. What we do have are land, a low cost of living and a community that desires positive growth and respect. Add to that a strong sense of community and you have an attractive offering if you know what to do with it.
Furthermore, we can begin to think outside of the box. Not that there’s anything wrong with having a distribution hub for Dollar General, but we also need to create jobs and an economy that doesn’t rely on low paying employee-farms with routine day-in-day-out repetitive cycles. Some may desire this, but the future of our country, our youth, by-and-large demand much more of their future employers.
They seek purpose.
The primary driver of our nation’s economy is, has always been, and should always be small business. Small business is the pursuit of the American Dream. It is the great equalizer that lands those of us with no economic advantages from birth in the company of those who do. It is a way to elevate one’s station in life and make an impact on those around us while doing it.
My experiences with economic development organizations tell me they’ll never be the driver of this type of change. They’re too mired in bureaucracy, power-grabs, oftentimes crony capitalism and all the other human ailments that plague organizations that wield authority. They also have a primary responsibility to justify their existence, which generally encourages low-risk maneuvers that are celebrated as significant victories.
Where does that leave us? I’m glad you asked. It leaves us in a position to be creative and forward-thinking. We need to connect our youth to vision and purpose. We need to create an atmosphere that gives them options and hope.
Why not create a community-funded co-working space in one of the downtown buildings? Why not have a community-funded grant writer who works with small businesses to find grants for their ideas? Why not work to create a network of angel investors to vet business plans and ideas from our entrepreneurial-minded citizens? Are these easy to establish? No, but we’re thinking outside the box. If we create a small business-minded community that values the entrepreneurial spirit, we can work to build a reputation for that focus. That will help set us apart from the typical focus of each and every community clamoring to land the latest factory, distribution hub and so on.
This will also take a concerted effort from the city of Longview in being a place that is business-friendly and works to help people realize their goals, rather than explain to them the myriad codes, regulations, ordinances, etc. that stand in their way until they pay the proper fee and so on and so forth ad nauseam until they go somewhere else.
With focused and like-minded citizens and leadership, we can all work together to make Longview a place of promise, hope and embodiment of the American dream that all cities and towns strive to achieve. We can continue our march to be mindful of and thankful for the oil and gas industry but to diversify in ways that offer economic stability and promise that is yet to be achieved in most rural areas.