TERRE HAUTE —
What is sustainability? Does it apply only to large cities and corporations?
Sustainability is basically the capacity to endure. And to answer the second question, sustainability is not exclusive to large cities and corporations. Furthermore, sustainability is maintaining the well-being of residents, which also includes ecological, economic, political and cultural dimensions. There are many aspects of communities in the Wabash Valley that provide a much needed advantage in the concept and practice of sustainability.
With communities in Vigo, Vermillion, Sullivan, Parke, Clay and Sullivan counties, several things come to mind when I consider all the advantages we have and the impact it can make on our community, economic culture and the character we have for both residents and also tourists. How do we want our residents, business owners and potential companies to view us as a community? Do we want to embrace each other with modern ideas and practices, or do we want to backtrack to the way things used to be done?
It is obvious where I stand. If communities continue to do things the way they did 10, 20 or 50 years ago they will never grow, change with the times and attract new business. If we don’t change, then we get left behind, and downtown areas become blighted.
So what do we have to do that we can position in a positive way, especially when funding streams have diminished or declined in many of our communities? First, in each of our communities we all have more direct, personal relationships. These relationships increase lines of communication with community members, local businesses and other important stakeholders. One of the purposes of increased communication with these personal relationships is to increase our community engagement. Look around many communities and you typically see baby boomers and older residents taking part in community activities and committees. I am 38 years old, and it is imperative that my generation and younger generations become engaged! We are building opportunities for future generations. This helps especially when implementing projects.
Second, outreach, education, awareness and community support are vital to our sustainability programs. As smaller communities, we are much more in-tune with our residents and can virtually be everywhere in order to reach them. For example, we can have displays at grocery stores, in the newspaper, sporting events, libraries, community meetings and so on. Large communities do not have that ability; we can capitalize on our size. Also, we can increase social norming more quickly, such as using recyclable bags for shopping.
And finally, goals and barriers are much easier to identify. I am on a committee to increase community engagement for Vermillion County. One of our goals is to ensure that all eight towns, cities and communities have representation at VCEDC. This provides a “voice” to each community to share their challenges, concerns and accomplishments.
Sustainability is not one-size-fits-all; we must identify our assets and begin marketing them to local businesses as well as potential larger companies to relocate to our areas. Barriers … each community and county has them. As small communities, we can identify barriers and locate resources to overcome them.
Heather (Penney) Strohm is the regional director for Indiana State University’s Indiana Small Business Development Center.