LOWVILLE — More than 90 professionals showed up to help build Lewis County’s economic development strategy through facilitated speed-brainstorming sessions.
The session was phase one of the two-phase process to “identify and align expectations on key priorities and areas of growth” in a strategic plan for the county.
The Industrial Development Agency wanted to hear from the community as an important “component of building a solid strategy for the future,” according to information circulated in advance to those who signed up for the breakfast meeting.
“It was amazing,” said IDA Interim Director Brittany Davis. “It was a great discussion around great ideas as we embark on the strategic plan.”
Gathered around 10 tables, attendees at the Elks Club on Tuesday morning shared their ideas in an “appreciative inquiry” session lead by Christie Andrus-Nakano by first describing a “community at its best,” whether it be local or further afield, and what things made that community “a vibrant place for living, working, building business and/or playing.”
Based on those ideas, groups were then asked to explore “opportunities to become exceptional as a thriving, growing rural community.”
The themes that came through in various ideas revolved around moving what exists and has already been done to the next level, like recreation opportunities and tourism, while creating more appealing downtown areas and improving infrastructure.
Improving the quality of life in the county to both retain talent in the area and attract new people and ideas were also central themes.
Emphasis, through the number of times and forms in which it was raised, was put on collaboration between government, businesses, and organizations, “supporting each other” within the community and taking pride in the county.
A number of legislators participated in the exercise, and some, including District 5 Legislator Richard Chartrand and Chairman of the Board Lawrence Dolhof, noted the “commonality of themes” in the information presented.
For Cheyenne Steria, finance technical specialist for the IDA, that “commonality” sent a clear message.
“A lot of it was very validating, that we’re thinking on the right track and now we just need to move it forward,” she said.
Many participants were familiar with the typical SWOT analysis looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of and to a business, institution or program, but many appreciated the “half-full” perspective of the SOAR analysis led by Mrs. Andrus-Nakano, focusing instead on strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results in the county.
“It was interesting. It’s all very forward-thinking,” said Anna Platz, public health specialist. “With SWOT, a lot of the time is spent looking at the past and being critical, but how this is designed is much more encouraging. I was very impressed.”
The fast pace of the 10 minute brainstorming sessions from one topic to the next were also appreciated by attendees.
“It was not somber,” added Samantha Widrick, co-owner of Zehr’s Flowers and landscaping in Castorland. “It was energized.”
The next step in the process is for the IDA board and staff members, who did not actively participate in this session, to be led by Mrs. Andrus-Nakano through the process themselves on Thursday. Next month, the group will reconvene to complete the process and formulate a strategy.