2018-08-16 / Opinion

Change is an Inevitable Occurrence

To the Editor:

Recently, the members of the Middletown Economic Development Advisory Committee (MEDAC) received a report on the activities of Connect Greater Newport, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce with representation from six East Bay communities, local businesses, and nonprofits. The intention was to provide an integrated approach to economic growth.

Discussion centered on how to raise statewide awareness of regional opportunities, but the topic that generated the most interest related to the barriers that undermine those efforts.

There was general agreement regarding the following:

1. The local culture was repeatedly identified by potential investors as “provincial,” reflecting an unwillingness to change.

2. Residents in the area prefer small businesses, which presents a challenge. Individual larger retailers or corporations, who would only make substantial investment if it could ensure profit, have found the region to be resistant.

3. Internet services, particularly the absence of broadband, present a challenge for companies that depend on the rapid exchange of information.

4. The cost of housing in the region is prohibitive for middle-level employees with young families.

5. The sense of “community” has dissipated.

I was impressed with the efforts of the Connect Greater Newport initiative to meet with the regional partners to collect information. Clearly there are goals, and an attempt is underway to stimulate interest in promoting economic development in the area. But I’ve been around too long to be satisfied with just a vision. I want a strategic plan – and I don’t mean more meetings.

I want to see the above issues addressed in a concrete meaningful way.

1. What can we do to change the culture so residents regard change as a positive? An advertising campaign? A media blitz? Public meetings?

2. Have the prospective areas in the region been identified for potential development, and has that information been distributed in a concerted manner to potential investors?

3. What efforts have been undertaken to resolve the broadband issue and how can they be expedited?

4. What areas of the region could be developed into small neighborhoods of medium-priced homes, and has there been contact with developers?

5. What efforts have been made to reengage the residents in resurrecting community spirit?

It’s not enough to go to meetings attended by a dozen or so people. Currently the only time large numbers of residents come out is to protest some perceived infringement on their “way of life.” How about coming out to join together to make things better?

We live in an area that is aging; the young people will leave as soon as they can unless we can offer opportunity that will make them want to stay. The beaches are for our summers and the tourists, not an all-year-round way of life. We need to weigh the alternatives. We can stay the same or we can grow. But we have to be willing to change, at least a little bit.

Barbara A. VonVillas, Ph.D.

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