Publication Note: This column was first published in the May 24, 2017 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format. It is the 12th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column.
What gives a community the framework to evaluate future opportunities and discern the best ideas from the merely good, or mediocre ideas? How can a small rural town move ahead in a unified manner in pursuit of a common ideal? What compels a group of citizens to choose a path which provides long-term benefits for their children and neighbors, and not simply for themselves?
Having a clear vision is the key to this healthy posture. Whether a town, an organization, or an individual, those who have a vision posses a powerful tool for thriving in any circumstance. Andy Stanley describes vision as “a picture of a preferred future.” It is a reference point to orient one’s direction and help answer questions yet to be encountered.
Lonoke has taken a courageous step forward. Whereas, once we were a community seeking a clear path ahead, we are now a town with vision. For nearly a year, volunteer leaders and citizens have faithfully met month after month and have engaged the community in a conversation about what the citizens of Lonoke desire for our future. This conversation is perhaps unprecedented in our town. The resulting vision most certainly is.
My friend Byron Calhoun once described to me how our potential can be provocative. The possibility that is within us will elicit a response–sometimes from detractors, and other times from the curious observer. In that potential lies power. Lonoke is a community that has chosen to embrace the potential of tomorrow with a fresh, optimistic look ahead. With the embrace of this new vision, we have also embraced one another. We have prioritized our neighbor’s needs over our own, and have articulated innovative strategies for making difficult choices in the future.
This past week, Governor Asa Hutchinson traveled to Lonoke and addressed a crowd of 120 people gathered downtown at the historic depot. In celebration of the conclusion of Lonoke’s strategic planning process, the Governor declared, “I have always looked at Lonoke as a place of opportunity.” He reminded us that our geographic position is a unique asset, noting that Lonoke is close enough to benefit from being near Little Rock, but far enough to create our own agenda.
It is that agenda, unveiled and declared in the form of a strategic action plan, which contains a vision for the future of our community. Our citizens have led with good ideas, and now each one of us has the privilege of being an ambassador for these ideas and an advocate for the good work to be done together.
Governor Hutchinson particularly emphasized to us, “How you brand your community and market [it] is very important.” Lonoke has taken a long look at who we are, celebrating our strengths and discovering our potential. I believe those strengths lie in our unique character as a community. Our potential lies in the way we articulate that uniqueness and share that story with our region and our state at large.
We envision a visible, attractive, and connected Lonoke. Lonoke will become a community that is visible to innovative, forward-thinking companies, entrepreneurs, creative professionals, and families of all ages. We will posses an attractive mix of skilled labor, residential options, a comprehensive education system, and accessible real estate. We will strengthen our connections to our region and state by economic adaptability and logistical diversity, and will remain connected to our neighbors by a spirit of unity and cooperation, accessible sidewalks, green space, and walkable streetscapes.
The accumulation of good choices made over time and priorities pursued with determination will ensure that our town is thriving when we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Lonoke’s founding five years from now. We will look back at this time, and remind ourselves that this was a key moment in our history, and we were faithful.
Ryan Biles has served as a Co-Chair of the Kick Start Lonoke independent initiative alongside numerous volunteers leaders in Lonoke. You are invited to join the conversation using the hashtag #LookAtLonoke on social media!