Some of us live in places that are lucky enough to have some highly unusual feature that stands out – whether it’s the mountains in Colorado towns or the surf of Key West, Florida or even the sheer scale of New York City. But unlike those examples, there are many fine places to live which have a high quality of life, but don’t otherwise have an obvious promotable distinction.
The big question for these places is how to maintain and build on that quality of life in a century that raises new challenges to every place, as more people are able to earn a living no matter where they are – if there’s high-speed Internet connectivity available.
Consider the small city of Clinton, Mississippi. It has a population of about 25,000 people and is near Jackson, the State Capitol. Although it is a relatively old city in the state, having been created in the early 1820s, it was known as Jackson’s first suburb. More recently, other more affluent suburbs have grown up around Jackson with high-end national stores in upscale shopping malls.
While many small cities dream of having a Fortune 500 company, Clinton had already “done that, been there”. WorldCom (later MCI Worldcom), for several years the second largest long-distance phone company in the US, made Clinton its headquarters location. In the early 2000s, a major fraud and financial scandal was discovered at the company. It went bankrupt in 2002 and after a while its nice headquarters was empty and the company’s assets were eventually acquired by a company far away, Verizon. So Clinton was no longer a big company town.
Clinton has, however, retained much of its original small town urban charm, with a number of brick-covered streets and an urban center that’s mostly missing from other suburbs. It has a well-developed sense of community, which is, in part, reflected in the quality of its schools that are ranked number 1 in the state.
Nevertheless, the people of Clinton know there are challenges ahead, so they have been an early adopter of gigabit connections to the home, through a program offered by the regional telecommunications company, C-Spire. The company announced at the end of last month that Clinton had five neighborhoods where pre-registration for the service exceeded the minimum necessary and Clinton becomes the second city in the state to become a gig-city.
(See my earlier blog post about Quitman, MS, for a report on the first city to do this last fall.)
Thanks to the work of the Intelligent Community Institute of Mississippi State University Extension Service, there I was last week to talk to a room full of Clinton’s community leaders. They met to envision how this gigabit network investment can be used to provide new economic opportunity for its residents and to ensure that the city can flourish in the future.
Of course, I pointed out that broadband, while necessary, isn’t sufficient. It’s only the start in building an attractive 21st century community that will retain and, better yet, attract people to live there.
I presented a picture of where the economy and technology have come from and where they seem to be going – and what Clinton can do to get ahead of the curve. I offered numerous examples of things that can be accomplished by a small city, pointing out that small cities can make a bigger impact this way than big cities. After my presentation, Clinton’s community leaders worked together to identify concrete actions they would get done in the next six months.
I was struck especially by the city’s new slogan and campaign. It was not the all-too-frequent argument that “we’re cheaper than the next city down the road and we’ll give your company big incentives to come here.” Even before I arrived with my message that, instead, these days the key question for economic development is how you go about keeping people and attracting newcomers to your city, they had already figured it out.
I wish I had come up with their slogan, since it is spot on – “You Belong Here”. I’ll be following up to see how Clinton goes about making good on that slogan and its promise for the future.
© 2015 Norman Jacknis