A Long, Long Way From Home

It's cold outside right now. Very, very cold.

In fact as I'm writing this it's about -10 outside before you count the wind chill, and that's because I'm in Rock Island, Illinois in the middle of a polar vortex snap. You might stop to pause and wonder why I'm in Rock Island Illinois. Well, over the past several weeks I have been quite a busy person, having crossed Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and parts of Maine.

I didn't spend much time talking about my job during the election, but I help companies make location decisions and also help states and communities figure out how to bring in new investment.  The first part of that – working with companies – is exciting, and I like working with the smaller entrepreneurial companies.  However, I really prefer the second part, the economic and community development. 

After the election, I threw myself back into a couple of work projects to stay busy.  Quite a bit of the time has been Elkhart Indiana, and each time I am there I appreciate more and more what we have in Newton Massachusetts.  By no means is that a slam against Elkhart.  It is a great and wonderful and comfortable town, and I have made a lot of good friends there. Moreover I think we're doing good work there to make their economy a lot more sustainable outside the recreational vehicle industry.

I don't know why this is the case, but it usually ends up that during the dead of winter I end up in the Midwest, Canada, and Maine. I don't know why I can't find a nice little project somewhere in Florida or Arizona this time of year. I guess that's just fate’s little sense of humor.

And when I consider where these communities are in terms of their economies, to say that it's not Newton is quite an understatement.

Think about the challenges that we face as a community: traffic, loss of historic character, our city's finances, our schools and how we prepare our kids for the future.  In short, how were going to make sure that Newton meets the needs of the future while still remaining the place we know now and where people can afford to live, and want to live.

True, the communities that I work with have a very, very different set of problems.  They are starting from a much more distressed level, and have much more significant economic and systematic problems than we do.  

On the other hand, each of these communities at one point was more successful than they are now.  Somewhere along the line, they failed to plan.  Or at the very least they failed to look into a very good crystal ball to see where fate might take their community.  And now they have to deal with the legacy of decisions that were made poorly or not made at all.

The reason I bring this up at all is probably due to my being so far from home right now.  Nonetheless, I do have this recurring worry even when walking around our city’s streets. What decisions are we making to actually get ahead of the issues of tomorrow?  What kinds of things should we be anticipating?  

All are good questions to ponder on a cold night a long way from home.  Even better to work towards finding what those issues are and making sure that we all work together to do something about them now.  

Chris Steele is a husband and a father of 2 children in the Newton Public School system.  He is also an economic and community development consultant as well as an activist and volunteer.  You can contact him at steelch@yahoo.com


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