In my wildest dreams I never once thought I would become a community advocate or ever have any interest in local politics. I had no interest in becoming a middle man of anything, let alone between a community and its leaders. Yet, here I am blessed with the self appointed job of getting to know my local city, county, state and federal leaders. I find myself wanting answers and I am pleased to tell you I like, no I love, the answers I have found.
Before I get into how my various meetings have gone, I want to tell you why I went to meet with the local leaders in the first place. There is a Facebook group called “You know you’re from Albert Lea when”, you may have a similar local page in your community. I joined the group because I truly love my town and I wanted to celebrate and learn about the rich history our town has with other Albert Leans.
I have to tell you, I was disappointed. Instead of hearing about all of the awesome things going on in our community, there it was heavily laced with negativity. I firmly believe if you are not seeing the positive changes happening in our town, you are trying not to see it. You cannot turn a large ship around quickly, it must be done slowly to ensure the structure of the boat remains intact, the same is true with communities.
The thing is the negativity, rumors and doubt are not only on the internet. It is in living rooms being talked about between families and friends. Fed up with the negativity I took to our blog and wrote Revival of a small town. I shared my story of growing up in town, inviting my neighbors to see the progress and the growth happening around us.
Instead of basing what I knew on rumors I had heard all around town and on social media. I decided I would go to the sources themselves and find out if they would be willing to answer my tough questions. I wasn’t sure how honest they would be or if they would even welcome me into their offices.
I was expecting “them” to be rigid, unfeeling, uncaring and desiring to put our town into the ground. This is not even close to the truth of what I found. In all honesty I met my neighbors who happen to be leaders in town. I met Albert Leans who had moved away, had no intention of returning and yet they did. The beauty, low crime rate, low cost of living and the community of caring people had brought them back. I met other leaders who moved to Albert Lea who chose to move here and were not born and raised here, yet they fell in love with the town. They not only fell in love with the town, they are working hard to fight for a thriving, quality place to live. Many of these leaders could choose to move on, yet they do not, they stay and enjoy our community.
They are not unaware of our communities flaws, in fact they feel the brunt of them everyday as they fight hard to bring in businesses, tourism and help the already existing businesses thrive. I have discovered it is often not our city’s infrastructure that drives businesses away. It is often the people in the community that drives away the businesses. This may be hard for some of you to hear, but it is the truth. You have decided that our leaders are hiding things from us, you base what you know on rumors and throw our town under the bus.
The answer I hear quite often is “they” need to fix our town. No “they” do not. Their (the City, EDC, Chamber or the Tourism Bureau) job is to bring people to our front door. They are the face of our community, but they cannot sell a community who will not sell themselves. Think about it if you are a company looking to expand or relocate are you going to go to a town where its own people say how there is nothing to do in town, we’re going downhill and it’s an awful place to live? On top of spreading rumors and negativity, when “outsiders” come into town are we welcoming and doing everything we can to truly help Albert Lea become their home? Are we giving them the snake eye and trying to run them out of town? If we want our town to thrive, then we need to get behind the leaders and become committee and board members to become creative problem solvers. We also need to be jumping on social media to share our awesome family, friendly adventures throughout town.
Will you join me in a ASK THEM campaign. Will you, as I have, go find out the facts of the situations instead of listening to rumors and assuming. I’m busy, your busy, but it is no excuse to be lazy and not find out the facts. Be courteous and do not just show up at their door. Call them first and set up an appointment, these leaders who have an open door policy are busy getting to know potential businesses who will come to town, planning events to bring in tourism, creating events to give already existing business owners tools to succeed. They have a tough job, especially when they know most of their decisions will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It cannot be an easy position to be in.
Who are Albert Lea’s leaders you may be wondering? Great question, I’m happy to tell you.
Albert Lea Economic Agency: Ryan Nolander, Executive Director – (507) 373-3930, firstname.lastname@example.org
Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce: Randy Kehr – (507) 373.3938, email@example.com
Albert Lea Tourism & Convention Bureau: Susie Petersen – (800) 345-8414, firstname.lastname@example.org
City of Albert Lea:
Mayor Vern Rasmussen 507-377-1540, email@example.com
City Manager: Chad Adams 507-377-4330, firstname.lastname@example.org
Asst. City Manager: 507-377-4316, email@example.com
You can find the city council members contact information here. You can find county information here. It is important to know if an issue is a city, county, state or even a federal issue. I have learned they are often interlinked in a way that makes it frustrating to get things done. They often have to work together and we all know when humans work together it’s going to get messy and complicated. Let’s give our leaders a break, lets join committees and boards and be part of the problem solving.