Be Ready When Opportunity Knocks
by Amanda Henderson
For the longest time, I have dreamed of a better future for my hometown. When I drive down Main Street in our historic downtown district, my heart goes pitter patter because I can envision the potential for community, beauty, and a thriving business district. It’s like that gorgeous old house that has layers of paint that are chipping, and bad linoleum covering up hardwood floors. Peel back the layers and you unearth the beauty that has been there all along. It can happen, it is just hard work.
A few years ago, we began seriously working toward revitalization. It can be a painfully slow process, nonetheless it is rewarding. Seeing new businesses open, events take place that bring a community together, and getting to witness long-time, jaded residents get excited again about where they live is worth the time, effort, work, and heart it takes to begin the work.
Just like my hometown, many small towns across Alabama have struggled to grow, have become stagnant, or have declined. Businesses have closed, buildings in downtown districts sit empty, and precious people have moved away. Years ago, NAFTA legislation sent many key businesses, cotton mills and sewing factories in manufacturing towns, to Mexico or overseas. Jobs were lost, people moved away, and many small towns never recovered. By definition, opportunity is “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something” or, “a good chance for advancement or progress.” Isn’t that still true of Alabama’s small towns today? Opportunity still knocks.
Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
”I’m not going to sugar coat the obvious. To get Alabama’s small towns to where a lot of us envision them, it is going to be hard work. It may not look like “the way we’ve always done things.” For any small town hoping for growth and change, there are obstacles and problems to be addressed, such as funding, getting the citizens on board, logistics, and city entities and businesses working together for a common goal. Look at those issues through a positive lens and re-frame them into opportunities for growth and progress. It’s a chance to raise the bar. Revitalization is possible. Economic turnaround is possible, but preparation is key. Alabama’s small towns must be prepared to take the steps necessary when opportunity arrives.
Look at your hometown through fresh eyes. Look for beauty. Look for potential. Notice the gorgeous old chippy brick and mortar buildings just waiting for someone to shine them up again. Look for character and uniqueness in those old buildings that could be embraced, enhanced, and preserved. Envision a thriving downtown area with unique stores and trendy restaurants. Visualize them full of life and as places to facilitate community, connections, and relationships. A lot of those buildings may be currently sitting empty, so how can you open the door for the creatives and dreamers, the entrepreneurs of your small town? How can you encourage them to stay and invest in your community and also have a support system while doing so?
There is so much potential for Alabama’s small towns!! Can’t you just see it? The potential Alabama small towns possess for building a truly unique downtown experience, for job creation, for fostering tourism, and having a place in which businesses can truly thrive is limited only by our lack of belief, action, imagination, and patronage.
What can you do to help your small town?
Make a point to be a patron of local businesses. Be intentional in where you choose to spend your dollars. Commit to shopping locally. Also, giving a boost to your local stores on social media helps them as well. Likes, shares, comments all let them know that they’re seen and puts them in front of more people.
Give people a reason to go downtown. Many downtown districts still have lots of empty buildings, so plan an event downtown to draw citizens there. Close the street and host a downtown concert, a movie night, or a Main Street meal under the stars. Get your downtown businesses involved during the event–they can hold special shopping hours, sales, and incentives for the community during the event. Let the community event be a boost for your established businesses.
Start Small. You don’t have to have thousands of dollars to make a difference. Host a clean up day downtown. Plant flowers. Paint a mural. Host a community event. There are many ways to begin cleaning up and making the area more aesthetically pleasing without having to break the bank.
Get involved. Volunteer. Five or ten people can’t change a town or even a downtown district by themselves. It takes a village, so to speak. How can you work together with your city, mayor, council members, nonprofits, and businesses to make a difference? Can you help fundraise? Can you help organize events? Are you artistic and can provide a unique asset in your town in the form of a mural, art, or experience? Are you good at seeing potential and dreaming up what could be? Are you gifted in administrative skills? All of these things are needed, working together for a common goal. Offering your strengths, time, and talents will make a tremendous difference in the revitalization efforts of your town!