Tuesday, January 26, 2010
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Mayor hosts economic summit, round 2

Part 2

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[January 26, 2010]  In the first hour of the Economic Summit -- Round Two, those who gathered to discuss the future of Lincoln and Logan County came to realize that inside Restoration Hall at Lincoln Christian University they were braving something far more dire than the cold, damp weather they had traversed to get there.

They were daring to face head-on the negative issues that lie within the boundaries of their town and even the borders of their county.

As LCU President Keith Ray led the group through the book "Caught in the Middle," by Richard C. Longworth, he divided the book into three segments: the bad news, the good news and making news.

At the end of the first segment, the group may have been more sober in spirit, but they were also more enlightened.

Ray had commented at one point that "somehow, we like to be at the bottom of the barrel before we start looking up. I think we're close enough that this book will help us see how the bottom of the barrel looks."

The bad news segment revealed the bottom of the barrel, and then as he led the group into the good news segment, they began to see that there are ways to revive our community, based on its current strengths.

The good news

"There is some good news out there," Ray stated as he opened the second segment. "We need to embrace it."

A study from the University of Illinois, published in Science Daily in January, stated that in the heartland, which includes Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, half of the counties are economically prospering.

The prospering counties were doing so because they had more farm jobs, they were an educated population, there was less income in equity, and finally the communities had civically engaged religious groups.

The study said that local action had made all the difference. There is a link between local churches and shared ethnic identities.

Also playing into their prosperity were small colleges in the areas. Ray drew on this, saying that Logan County was fortunate to have not one, but three colleges.

Ray reminded the group that the Midwest set the pace in the industrial revolution, but now somehow we have lost it.

Longworth wrote that the future lies not in Alabama or Las Vegas, but in the heartland, one of the most resourceful places on planet Earth.

Ray commented further: "We have the history; we have cases where rural counties are prospering and the reason for it. Our educational base is a global one. The Midwest has the highest concentration of flagship universities in the world."

The unfortunate part of this is that our highly educated are not staying local. They take what they learn and go to other regions where they can make more money.

The single best hope for small rural communities will be the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population: Latinos.

Ray noted specifically that Latinos are already migrating into the Midwest. He cited Beardstown, which has benefited a great deal from this immigration.

Ray said that the simple truth is towns with immigration are growing; those without immigration are shrinking.

Ray had at the beginning of the morning told the group that he had just recently returned from a two-week trip to China, representing his university.

Now as he spoke about growth through immigration, he told the group that one of the reasons he was engaging China was with the hope of seeing Chinese students in his university within the next year or so.

Ray said, "So here is my question: Is Lincoln ready to deal (with) the Chinese culture?"

Ray moved on, saying one of the conclusions of the good news segment was this simple statement: "The new Midwesterner must embrace differences."

He said the good news that exists in the community needs to be exploited. He expressed a desire to flood the local media with all the good that is going on.

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He asked the group to talk about the victories -- even now what is out there that is really good in the city and the county.

Alderwoman Kathy Horn spoke up, saying that the Together for Lincoln program was an amazing asset to the community. She said that she has talked to people who really just cannot believe all that group has done for Lincoln.

Together for Lincoln is a collaboration between the majority of the local churches, wherein members gather together and perform community service projects, which include downtown cleanups, building wheelchair ramps, making home repairs for those who are unable to do it themselves, and this past year even donating time to cleaning up and painting one city-owned building.

It would appear that the Together for Lincoln projects would be fine examples of civically minded religious groups.

Dave Schonauer of Illinois American Water said that our educational systems were a great asset. "Three colleges in town with a population of 15,000 people is unheard of," he said. "The educational system we have with the parochial systems and public education systems, I don't know where we rate, but I do know our teachers work really hard." He continued his comments by mentioning the new hospital campus being built, as well as Castle Manor for senior living accommodations, and ended with comments on our location: Being in the heart of a three-major-city triangle is an advantage.

Ray added to the comments, saying that one of Longworth's points in his book is that many rural communities are much more isolated than Logan County is.

Chris Ilam, representing Main Street Lincoln, said that the town has a good number of vacant buildings that can be offered to new businesses.

Andi Hake of the chamber of commerce also counted the community partnerships through Community Action as an asset in that they offer many resources for those in need.

Jan Schumacher, who is one of the newer members of the Logan County Board, said that she felt the recent changes in leadership on a city and county level were making a difference.

Ivan Ray, a longtime businessman in Lincoln and father of Keith Ray, stood and said, "The government and the county board needs to support what you are doing." He went on to talk about when the Zion Lutheran School was built, not in the city limits, and how the city supported extending those limits for the school. He recounted that as a good example of the city working with the citizenry.

Other items that were mentioned included the value of tourism in the city and county, the volunteer base within the communities, and the fact that there is still plenty of room for geographical growth in the city of Lincoln.

While the discussions could probably have gone on much longer, Ray said that in keeping with the time schedule, he needed to move on to the third and final segment of the book.


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