Gold Standard, Brainstorming, New Chamber Coffee and Community Forum

Friday and Saturday last week, 200 people representing all aspects of rural living from around Kansas converged on the Meridian center in Newton, KS for The Big Rural Brainstorm, sponsored by the Kansas Sampler Foundation. The foundtion’s purpose is to promote all things rural in Kansas.    

One of the small groups I asked to sit in on sought to determine what a Gold Standard for a rural town might be.  I was drawn to it after attending January’s Belleville Community Forum where several people in the community began brainstorming the possibilities for a brand and theme for Belleville to help us market our town to the rest of the world.

Both the Belleville community forum and the gold standard session focused on a key point everyone who loves living in a rural community needs to keep in mind.  How we present our town to the world will make a large impact on the quantity and quality of visitors we will have the opportunity to serve.   Makes sense, but what does it really mean?  

An economic development pro in our gold standard group shared a story with us about why Seimens Energy wind power business recently chose Woodward, OK for the home of its new service and distribution facility.  It drove home the importance of how travel and tourism is an important component of economic developement  for towns.  Most people, as well as companies, first visit a community several times before they ever decide to move there.  The first impressions they come away determine the final outcome.

When Seimens sought a town to build their facility, they sent out “secret shoppers” to the community to learn about how the people who lived there felt about the town.  The people of Woodward were friendly, helpful, and proud of their town, could tell visitors where to eat, where to shop, and what to do in the area.   The group talked about what could be done to infuse rural towns everywhere, regardless of size or amenities, with that sort of pride.   

Nick Levendofsky, a Farmer’s Union representative from Republic, Kansas, and I spoke during one of the breaks.  He attended a small group focused on what small towns that have lost their school and grocery stores can do to promote themselves and stay vibrant.  Marci Penner, the organizer of the conference, earlier empowered everyone with a yellow card that we could pull to stop negative conversations.  He and another in their group used it to turn the conversation around.  Not only did he spread the word about what the town of Republic had done with the school house, he was also inspired to action, and left the conference with plans to work to build a ramp to the Rae Hobson Memorial Library so the aging population of Republic can continue to use it.   

“We need to stop complaining about all that we don’t have, and start working to improve and protect what we do have,” he said.  

Positive thinking and empowering ideas often come from brainstorming sessions.  The Belleville Chamber-Main Street board took action on one idea that surfaced at the community forum. A need was identified.  People in the community need to have a way of getting together on a regular basis so they can not only become informed about what is going on in and round town, but also to access people and resources to assist in the projects they face.   At 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, People’s Exchange bank  will sponsor the first weekly Chamber-Mainstreet coffee hour at the Belleville City Hall meeting room.  Anyone in the community is welcome to attend.   The Chamber of Commerce in Concordia, Kansas, has been holding a similar coffee for over a decade now,  with members from every aspect of community in attendance.  With any luck, Belleville will find a way to take it to a new level.  


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