STERLING – Rejuvenated and revitalized.
That's how I felt leaving Wednesday evening's second Sauk Valley Symposium, this one featuring author Jack Schultz. Schultz delivered a presentation in front of a large crowd at Sauk Valley Community College on his book "Boomtown USA: The 7 1⁄2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns."
Schultz conducted extensive research in small towns across the country to provide materials and examples for his book. His main goal during the presentation was to use those examples to motivate people in Sterling, Dixon and Rock Falls.
I was pleased to see so many leaders from the three towns attend the event. Sterling Mayor Skip Lee, Rock Falls Mayor David Blanton, Dixon Mayor Jim Burke, Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard and Rock Falls City Administrator Robbin Blackert were among those in attendance.
There also were economic development officials from each city and from Whiteside and Lee counties.
It was crucial for such leaders to attend – they are the people with the power and ability to set the tone for development and policy. If they are willing to take a chance on an idea, and pursue an ambitious plan, the entire town could reap the reward.
Schultz gave examples of towns that took a simple idea and ran with it. One such city is Columbus, Ind., now known nationwide for its archictural gems. In 1991, the American Institute of Architects rated Columbus sixth on its list of the top 10 American cities for architectural quality and innovation, Schultz pointed out. It's above cities like Los Angeles, Houston and Miami. Imagine a tiny city like Columbus ranking with New York City for its architecture, simply because one person had an idea and pursued it.
One of Schultz' keys to success is to embrace an entrepreneurial approach. He asked audience members between the ages of 13 and 31 to stand. These are members of Generation Y, young people who have the ideas and potential to change the future.
The key to a community's success depends on the number of young people who are willing to take ideas and make them in to reality. Successes they envision and dream about can turn to real successes for towns like Sterling and Rock Falls.
Among the interesting points Schultz presented was the idea of how economic development leaders attract businesses to towns. Often, the idea is to work to bring large corporations and big businesses from outside in to a community. The thought is that such a large company will bring jobs and help a community.
Instead of trying to attract large corporations, towns should focus on growing and nurturing ideas from within, Schultz suggested. Take time to work with people who have a seed and help them grow it. By doing this, a company can form from inside the town. Leaders don't need to wait for the next big thing to come to them. They can make it happen on their own.
Each person who attended the event should be glad they did. If you live in the Sauk Valley, economic development should be important to you. The future of our area should matter to you.
I look forward to seeing how Schultz's ideas lead to success stories of our own in the Sauk Valley.
Sauk Valley Media reporter Kiran Sood covers government and happenings in Sterling and Rock Falls. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 800-798-4085, ext. 529.