What’s Next? Here Are 5 Ways We Build Our Region’s Economic Future.

by Greg Prestemon

Here’s the good news:

It’s over.

It’s finally over.

Here’s the bad news:

This election left scars, and we have a lot of things that need to be fixed.

And it’s left a lot of people, locally and nationally, asking “What’s next?”

Here’s what’s next:

1. We build strong communities at the local level.

Strong communities are created at the local level, not via the federal government.

That’s not new.

In fact, that’s the way it has always been. Local elected officials, entrepreneurs, business owners, educators, parents, church leaders, and concerned citizens solve problems. I’ve been in this role since 1993, and during that time I’ve seen groups of people with wildly divergent points of view come together to create new economic opportunities and stronger communities.

That won’t stop because someone new is in the White House. In fact, it needs to accelerate.

In order to remain competitive, our county and this entire region need to be on the cutting edge of attracting new and innovative industries.

That won’t happen because a president, governor, or congressman orders it to happen.

It will happen when the people who call this community home work together to create the type of environment that brings businesses in droves.

And I know we can do that.

2. We look at other communities for best practices and to see what’s working.

In a recent Atlantic article, journalist James Fallows traveled across the county to see if thriving communities—regardless of whether they were in a “red” or “blue” state—shared anything in common.

They did.

According to Fallows, successful communities share the following traits:

  • Divisive national politics are a distant concern.
  • They have “local patriots.”
  • Successful public-private partnerships are a fact of life.
  • There is a “civic story.”
  • They have thriving downtowns.
  • They are near a research university.
  • They have and care about a community college.
  • They have innovative schools.
  • They welcome new people into the community.
  • They have big plans.
  • They have craft breweries.

Re-read that list.

St. Charles County is pretty close to absolutely nailing it. Sure, we have work to do, but we are headed in the right direction.

And when you’re headed in the right direction, you don’t change course—which is why we need to pay attention to the first bullet point.

2016 won’t be our nation’s last divisive election.

Divisive elections stop communities from reaching their full potential.

But they definitively won’t stop this community.

Why?

Because when people work together at the community level, they are free to focus on what connects them, rather than what divides them.

And that’s exactly what we should do in this region and across the nation.

(And if you’re feeling depressed today, Fallows’ writing is an antidote to pessimism and worth a read.)

3. We need to recognize that the world is changing, and we need innovation and entrepreneurship to solve our problems.

We need to look to the future and be strategic about what industries we target. For example, St. Charles County is poised to be the home for technology that supports self-driven automobiles.

Which means we need entrepreneurs and employees who can thrive in highly technical, technology-driven industries.

We accomplish that by developing an educational system that includes K-12 schools, community colleges, universities, and vocational education that emphasize STEM education—and by supporting programs that help create new entrepreneurs, like the EDC’s Business Incubator and OPO Startups.

4. We need to start believing in ourselves.

The new president won’t stop us from creating the types of communities we want and the types of communities our residents need.

And the new president also can’t do a lot to help create those types of communities, either.

The reality is that the hard work of community building falls on our shoulders.

That’s a big job, and if we’re going to do a big job, first we need to believe that we can do that job.

Simply put:

We need to stop waiting, stop blaming, and start believing.

5. We need to start believing in each other.

People who look different, pray differently, think differently, and vote differently are not our enemies.

They are our neighbors, friends, family, collaborators, innovators, business partners, employees, bosses, and our problem solvers.

St. Charles County is one of the best places in the entire country to grow your startup, and to call home. That’s a pretty special thing. And communities get to be special when they believe in each other—when they believe that despite their differences, their neighbors are all working toward a shared vision of a better future.

We will continue to be that community, and we will continue to be that region.

That’s what’s next.

Greg Prestemon is President and CEO of the St. Charles County EDC Business and Community Partners.

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