Community focuses on future

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 27, 2004

Most Lawrence Countians would agree on one thing: the need to revitalize our community. Thursday, approximately 60 area residents met and discussed how best to make that happen.

The first community leadership conference, "Designing Our Future" brought together people from all walks of life who pledged to share ideas and work together to make positive, long-term changes in the community. The conference was sponsored by Ohio University Southern, The Ironton Tribune and The Briggs Lawrence Library.

"We want to do a better job of bringing the voices within the community together and bringing together people who have contributed (to the community) but never collectively," said Jim Crawford, director of OUS' Center for Innovation and Leadership. "This allows them to see each other and work together."

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Crawford said he hoped the first conference would produce ideas that could be implemented. "Change is in our hands."

"I feel that a lot was accomplished," Lawrence County Commissioner Doug Malone said. "I think if we tap the main resource we have, and that is our people, we can improve things. One of the reasons we're here is to find out what is important to people."

Those who attended agreed on three initial focus areas that will get their attention in the immediate future - concerns that may either hinder growth or promote it: Area cleanup, tourism and travel and communications and leadership.

Area cleanup has long been discussed as an embarrassment that gives outsiders a negative image of Lawrence County, perpetuates the stereotype of Appalachia and wounds our own self-image. It was cited almost immediately as one of the group's major concerns.

"Some people cut their grass and don't clean the curbs and clean their walks," Ironton resident George Sisler said. "They need to keep the walks trim and a neat place to live, and keep their houses up. I'd like to see them make people put their garbage in containers when they put it the alleys instead of just throwing it out in bags that get ripped all to pieces by dogs. And some of the downtown buildings, the soffits are falling off and you're almost afraid to walk on the sidewalk."

Those who attended agreed that attracting the lucrative tourism dollar could provide new jobs in the future. Friends of Ironton co-founder Rick Jansen pointed out the success of the recent Rally on the River proves this area can attract tourists who will come and spend money in the community. Many agreed that while Lawrence County has a number of attractions that could draw visitors from out of town, more needs to be done to promote those attractions.

The communications and leadership committee actually was a collection of similar ideas with a common theme: build on the strengths of the area by promoting volunteerism, by fostering leadership within the community, and building partnerships between groups.

"I think we need to foster a collaborative effort and reduce competition," said V. Patrick Bell, former director of OUS' Center for Innovation and Leadership, now a private consultant. "There is a lot of good stuff going on here but we’re doing a damn poor job of selling it."

Those who attended heard presentations from Edna Jackson, director of the Detroit-based community organization Focus Hope, and Bill Wenzell, who serves at that agency's quality control. Both Wenzell and Jackson discussed what Focus Hope does and how the agency started as a food pantry and over the years has grown into multi-million-dollar-a-year agency that provides job training, education, day care and other essentials to get inner-city people off the welfare rolls and onto payrolls.

"Private industry is the key," Wenzell told the local people. "You can’t rely on government to come up with a program and make it work. Government has a role to play, certainly, but private industry has a more important role."

Melinda Holsopple of The Way Station, a Columbiana County organization, also spoke.

The tourism committee will meet at 6 p.m.Thursday, Sept.16 at the Greater Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Office in South Point; the clean up committee will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, at the Workforce Development Resource Center on Second Street in Ironton; the communications committee will meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28 at the OUS Campus and Community Building.