That was the singular, compelling message Blue Ridge Electric Membership Cooperative CEO and Ashe County native Doug Johnson delivered during his remarks at the annual Ashe Chamber Small Business of the Year Luncheon.
“What do we need to do to get Ashe County back to great?” Johnson asked the assembled group of local officials, and civic and business leaders on Tuesday afternoon.
For Johnson, the first step was to get rid of the “stinkin’ thinkin’.” Perhaps an indelicate phrase, but it does get to the heart of the matter; perception really is our reality. If we believe things are getting worse, then invariably, they will.
However, if we’re positive, hopeful and enthusiastic about confronting our challenges as a county head-on, then that “can-do” attitude can work wonders at beating back the “stinkin’ thinkin’” of the gloomy naysayers.
But positive thinking only gets you so far. If your roof is leaking, no amount of happy talk helps. You’re still going to get wet until it’s fixed.
And to get it fixed, you need a plan, the money to pay for it and the dogged determination to get it done.
Of course, the plan is the first step.
During Johnson’s remarks, he questioned what Ashe County might look like in five, 10, 15 or 20 years and how it would achieve its objectives.
And then he posed a question about the future to the county’s leaders in attendance; “do we have a strategic vision plan in Ashe?”
He said he looked, but couldn’t find one.
There really isn’t one.
In fact, the county has experienced nearly a half-dozen traumatic and devastating manufacturing plant closings over the last decade, and while there has been a significant wringing of hands and plenty of “woe is me” talk, there really hasn’t been a leader or group of leaders willing to step forward and talk about the future — how to get back to great.
Ashe County needs just that and right now. We need a group of leaders, visionaries and risk takers to help guide us out of this economic doldrum.
And they are already here — right now. Those leaders, those lovers of Ashe County who want to see it great again. The amount of talent, wisdom and tenacity found within the coolest corner of North Carolina is awesome.
So, who takes the lead?
It might be said the county already has an economic development effort underway that is doing all it can to attract new business and industry. In reality, the effort is nothing more than a functioning website.
However, Johnson’s challenge of developing a vision for the future expands beyond the walls of the county’s economic development office.
There needs to be an agreement, a consensus forged on how Ashe will look 20 years from now by answering questions like: What will be the county’s economic engine? Is it manufacturing? Is it tourism? Is it agriculture?
It’s probably a combination of all three, but we need a plan.
Johnson offered a challenge. Who, or whom, will rise to that challenge?
Will it be the county commissioners, the Ashe Chamber of Commerce, the West Jefferson Community Partnership or any of the other groups in the county willing to step up and take on what’s sure to be inspiring challenge?
To develop a strategic vision for the future, money is an absolutely critical component.
Like Johnson said at the luncheon, to have the resources to develop a strategic vision “you tax yourself to pay for these people, you have to do that.”
He also said he was “totally in favor of low taxes, but growth will lower your taxes because you have more people paying into the pie, but you have to have some resources, like an economic development person.”
He’s right, the county must have an economic development director. That position has been open for too long and it’s a step in the right direction that the county has announced it has started searching for one.
And the final factor for success is the dogged determination or consuming commitment to do whatever is necessary to realize the dream.
Johnson summed it up nicely with some MAGIC.
M – Make it happen
A — Action
G – Get ready to grow
I – Imagining more
C – Commitment
With a little “magic,” Ashe can get back to great.