New beginnings

Published 7:00 am Monday, March 25, 2013

MURFREESBORO – Sometimes the formula to a new beginning is changing the playbook.

On Monday, the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce hosted its 61st annual banquet with the theme “Rethinking Economic Development…a New Beginning” at the Roanoke Chowan Shrine Club on Highway 11.

The event offered special recognitions of local business and community leaders and featured Dr. Eric Johnson, Executive Director of University Park Alliance in Akron, Ohio, as the guest speaker.  Johnson is leading urban renewal effort in Akron in a core section of the city that is now becoming an emerging bio-tech community.

Johnson said he was able to tour Murfreesboro to see what the city had to offer.

“One thing I usually pick up on when I go to communities is the sense of a soul of a community and I sense that this town is not a town that has a defeatist attitude,” he said.    Johnson likened what was happening in communities across the country as a football game.

“We’re running what we call outdated plays,” he said. “I’m not a person who believes you should run on first down, run on second down and try to get a long pass on third down, but the old playbook, when you apply that to economic development, we’re doing the same thing we were doing in the early days.”

Johnson said the playbook needed to be changed in order to start a new beginning.

“There’s no question that the world we live in today is full of challenges,” he said. “In the eyes of many Americans these times are tougher than ever before.”

Johnson noted how a century ago the economy changed from agricultural to industrial.

“Creativity has now become the driving force in growth and development of towns, cities, regions and nations,” he said. “Nobody is exempt from that scenario.”

Johnson said to be successful today communities need to develop their own unique formula that addresses five dimensions of success, which includes: talent, innovation, collaboration, connections and distinctness

“One thing is certain if our communities, just like Murfreesboro, are to survive and recover from the Great Recession, it’s basically going to come from the local communities,” he said.

Using Gallup findings, Johnson noted a shortfall of 1.8 billion jobs needed globally and how competition is now going beyond town, county, state and nation to international.

Johnson spoke about the role small businesses will play in the growth of new business, customers and jobs in the next 30 years.

“Those communities that capitalize and understand that they have to position themselves to take advantage of this trend will be the centers of prosperity,” he said.

Johnson said with so many small businesses in the country, job creation is not coming from larger industries. He noted the choice to compete will come down to what the community decides.

“It’s really a new beginning,” he said. “Economic prosperity will come to those who are prepared. Places replacing industry as key the key drive of economic growth.”

He spoke about how the troubles of the federal government trickle down to communities, leaving them to figure out what the “endgame” will be.

“My point is, the government is out of business, it’s going to be out of business for awhile; if we are to thrive again it is going to come from us,” he said.

Johnson added this is why local leadership is important for prosperity in order to funnel those government funds to communities that are prepared.   He said towns need to think about what they say about their community and what message they want to send to those outside of it because it may influence how industry and business perceive it.

“You don’t want to invest a place that doesn’t believe in itself,” he said. “The message that you want to communicate is that there is something going on here in Murfreesboro as a place to live, work and invest.”

Johnson said during his tour around the town he noticed an array of assets, including ChowanUniversity, Main Street businesses and land next to water.

“I saw some of the building blocks in place,” he said. “As a smaller community you have some of the elements that a lot of larger communities have, (but) you can actually build on it without losing your small town feel.”

Johnson said he knows there are challenges, but communities must drive the challenges rather than the challenges driving them.

During the banquet, Colon Ballance was honored with the WDLZ Sammy Doughtie Award by Earl Telliga. Chowan University football coach Tim Place received the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Front Page Award from Publisher Joe Cowart.   Outgoing Chamber President Josh Barker presented Dan Hunt and William Hall with the Chamber of Commerce Award and Barker was presented an honorary plaque for his work by his replacement, Michael Bunch.