The phrase “That vision thing”, for those of us old enough to remember, was made famous by the first George Bush, back in 1987. Voicing his exasperation with his critics who called on him to express a vision of where he wanted to take the country, he said dismissively, “oh, that vision thing.” Although he was viewed as a ‘competent caretaker’ of the country during his presidency, Bush’s lack of a compelling or long-term vision for America played a large role in his failure to get re-elected. Citizens want their political leaders to have a vision, to provide hope for a better future. As the bible says, ‘without a vision the people perish.’
Recently, I have had the opportunity to visit several small and medium-sized cities in North and South Carolina and talk with the residents there. Many of these communities have had to face the all-too-familiar loss of manufacturing and textile jobs, as has occurred here in Laurinburg. What emerges as a common theme in those cities that are thriving, is progressive and visionary leadership. Whether one looks at success stories like Newberry or Greenville, South Carolina, or Hendersonville, Shelby or Pinehurst, North Carolina, it is exactly “the vision thing” that is making the difference. And the leaders of these communities are not simply copying what other communities have done, rather, they have developed visions for their cities particular to their community’s strengths and locations.
Hopefully, the reader of this column might ask, what exactly are these ‘visions’ for growth and hope in the face of the loss of textile and manufacturing that each and every one of these communities has suffered? The most common thread running through all of these communities is the vision of simply making the community an attractive place to live. Downtown revitalization is perhaps the most essential element for this vision, and was mentioned repeatedly in every City. This is what gives the community character and charm and attracts further investment in the community. Also essential for growth, according to these communities, is giving the citizens a real sense of real pride in the community. This has been done by beautification efforts, achievements by the schools, and visionary actions by the community’s elected officials and benefactors. Interestingly, in each and every cty, it was the improvement in quality of life that was felt to have attracted growth, by aiding in industrial recruitment, becoming a retirement destination, tourism etc.
As we begin to work on this year’s city of Laurinburg budget, it is my hope that rather than just ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’, we take the necessary time and effort to think about what “vision” for Laurinburg has the best chance of community success and growth for tomorrow. The citizens recently expressed their vision for what they believe will make Laurinburg better. They can believe in a City that provides more recreation, downtown revitalization, more beautification, less litter, and less crime. Therefore, for Laurinburg’s so-called ‘community leaders’, this ‘vision thing’ appears to be, after all, quite simple. Just listen to the citizens.
Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.