04/02/08 — Dialogue next: Chamber does need to listen to community’s concerns

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Dialogue next: Chamber does need to listen to community’s concerns

Too bad Mount Olive College associate professors Peter Appleton and Paul Cwik were not speaking for the college when they suggested that perhaps the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Community address did not quite start off with the punch it could have.

They were right — a bit too quick to judge perhaps, but right.

Although there was reason to set the scene, the chamber missed the opportunity to do what really would have been the kind of first strike that would have engaged a community and gotten people talking.

Its leadership did not lead a frank discussion about the community’s concerns, its priorities and its future. There was no facing the challenges that can make or break a community. There was no real discussion at all.

The inaugural meeting was more of a public relations recitation of the achievements of various county entities over the past years.

Nothing wrong with that, but hardly a call to action or a jumping off point for encouraging the kind of give-and-take that moves mountains.

And a far cry from the inspiring kickoff address by chairman Geoff Hulse during the chamber’s annual banquet.

That was a speech that got people thinking, talking and excited about being a part of making a difference in their community. And it even ruffled a few feathers — a sure sign that it mattered and could actually prompt real action.

Here’s the good news: Hulse promises that this was just a warmup. That there is much more work ahead — including some real discussions about the problems this community faces as it looks to the future.

Great. That’s what we need.

In this next round, the chamber leadership — and those who are invited to take part — need to be ready to — as one of the MOC professors suggested — listen to what is on the minds of the community.

From that jumping off point, we can then look for what is being done, what needs more community support and also determine the root causes of some of the challenges that this community faces.

In other words, we can get down to business.

There are some great minds in this community with much to contribute and some real insight into what it will take to get this community headed for even more prosperity and responsible growth.

But to be part of a discussion like that, those who agree to participate will need to know that this is not just another lovefest or chance for public officials to tout their achievements without really answering questions and concerns.

They have to know that those in attendance want to talk about perceptions, goals, challenges, problems and possibilities — and will have a thick skin when it comes to meeting the community’s concerns head-on.

And if the chamber is serious about taking on a leadership role when it comes to setting the course for the county’s future, this is the chance to set a stage for just this type of discussion.

OK, so the first at-bat wasn’t a hit. That doesn’t mean there is not another chance for a homerun.

Published in Editorials on April 2, 2008 10:43 AM