At the beginning of each New Year, I do a little prognosticating about what 2014 might hold in store for us at the local, state, and national level. Just for fun, I unearthed the column I wrote last year on Dec. 31 about what I thought the year just ended would hold in store. Frankly, I was a little surprised at how close I occasionally came to getting it right.
For example, I wrote a year ago, “There is a whole movement underway to redefine what this country is about and for what it stands. Oh, the basic principles will remain the same, and the greatest experiment in self-government will continue to evolve. How it’s going to evolve is a much touchier issue, however. The progressive movement in the United States has new life, and we’ve seen more division created among our people than ever before, rich vs. poor, the role of government in leveling he playing field for all, the divide over whether we need more or less government in our lives, and a host of other issues that divide rather than unify us as one people.” Boy, that was pretty much on the mark, if I do say so myself!
What we saw in 2013 was the impact of the reality of more government in our daily lives, like the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Here’s what Donald Trump had to say about the actual impact of Obamacare. “Let me get this straight… We’re going to be ‘gifted’ with a health care plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don’t, which covers at least ten million more people, without adding a single new doctor, but provides for 16,000 new IRS agents, who have recently demonstrated their objective and professional integrity; written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a Congress that didn’t read it but exempted themselves from it…”
I was also pretty close about the government attempt to “level the playing field for all.” Now, the President has started to talk about income inequality. What do you suppose that phrase actually means? Income inequality refers to gap in real wages being earned by different segments of the population. For instance, the top 10% of wage earners saw their real hourly wages increase by 30% or more between 1973 and 2005. This group included those people who have a college education or an advanced degree. On the other hand, people in the bottom half of the workforce, where the majority had, at most, a high school diploma saw real wages increase by only 5% to 10% over the same period. Well, according to the President, that’s not fair! Fairness, of course, has nothing to do with it. Free market capitalism has everything to do with it. It is marketplace that decides the value placed on various jobs. But enough of wandering down Memory Lane!
What’s 2014 going to be like? During the coming months we will find a new “brand” for the community. A year ago I wrote, “What seems to be missing is a common vision of what we want this county to be and, therefore, a shared plan to start us moving toward the achievement of that shared vision.” What’s going on at the present time is developing that common vision. Once that’s done, the next hurdle will be to convince people right here to buy into that shared vision of who we are and what we want to be. In a slipshod sort of way, what I’ve just described is “branding.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge we will face in 2014 is changing the way we see ourselves and our community. Frequently, it seems, people who live in surrounding communities have a better image of us then we have of ourselves. People travelling through Rushville and Rush County talk about the well-kept farms, the attractiveness of Main Street and the community’s large, attractive homes, manicured lawns, and tidy flower beds. They like the appearance of our Victorian downtown with its unique street lights. Most of all, people coming through admire our unique courthouse.
We, on the other hand, tend to talk about what a dump this place is. We notice the run-down house with toys all over the yard. We don’t see the whole streetscape. We just see the flaws. We see the vacant building, not the entire block. It’s perfectly natural to look for the chipped paint or the litter. We do that with our own homes. People passing through this county see it, frankly, the way we ought to be seeing it. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t things that need to be done, but we’re often more critical of this community than we ought to be.
That’s what branding should help solve. Once we develop a more tangible image of who we are and what we aspire to become, the challenge will be spreading that notion around. That will be the challenge we face during the coming year.
Another challenge we face, it seems to me, is completing the project of building a strong partnership between the private sector and public education. The idea, as most people know, is to give our students a better real-world understanding of what sort of training they’re going to need to get the really good jobs that are available here. Ultimately, we want more people living in this county and more of our kids to come back home to live and raise their families here. That, in a nutshell, is the biggest challenge we will face in 2014: Changing the way we see ourselves so that we can reverse the gradually declining population and start attracting more new families to live here and send their kids to our schools.
That’s –30—for this week.