In late February, hundreds of people from across the community came together to discuss the future direction of the county. When asked the question, "Is Del Norte ready to move forward?"
The unanimous and resounding answer was "YES!"
Across the discussions, the following observations were made:
Universally, people expressed a desire and recognition of the need for the community to come together in a constructive manner to shape the future direction of the area. Without exception, people were willing to be open and honest in their discussion of the issues, and express their aspirations for the future and frustrations about the current status of the community.
A number of groups across the community are already working on bold and visionary projects and ideas that have the potential to make a profound impact on the economic future of the county.
There is no doubt that the Del Norte County community has the desire to create a new era of vitality and prosperity. There are important social indicators that clearly demonstrate a compelling need and responsibility for the community to build a better future for all people who choose to make Del Norte County their home.
There are some real challenges and opportunities before the community. Some of the key issues that need to be tackled in creating future vitality and prosperity include:
Creating a unifying vision or shared aspiration for the future direction of the region or the community, which all people in community can be aligned towards. Critical to this will be strengthening trust and partnerships across community segments.
Finding the way to tap into the energy and passion in the community. There is grit and resolve in community that can be turned into the drive and tenacity it takes to build a stronger community.
Building the environment in which innovation and entrepreneurship can flourish, capitalizing on the emerging "new economies." For example, how can the famous redwood forests, coastal environment and marine habitat be built upon in a sensitive and creative manner to stimulate new endeavors? Where do the new business ideas come from, and how will they be nurtured?
Connecting into the numerous groups who have the capacity to contribute the new thinking that is required. The school and college represent potential incubators of creative thought, but they need to be brought into the community decision-making process.
Tackling the underlying social and economic issues such as poverty, low household income and high unemployment. In particular, a focus on youth and entrepreneurship in the community is important.
Creating a community culture that celebrates success, empowers people to be bold, take risks and step up into leadership roles.
"Testing the Waters" is an initial three part process, to help the community come together in a collaborative effort to shape a powerful and positive future for Del Norte County.
This process covers:
My visit to the community in late February, which involved meeting with more than 23 stakeholder groups with a wide range of interests and perspectives (e.g. school classes, economic development groups, environmental groups, community groups, tribal councils, agricultural, fishing and timber interests, elected officials, human services workers, local boards) to explore local perspectives and measure the community readiness to move forward.
Presentation at the March 24 Economic Summit by Connie Loden, executive director of the Heart of Wisconsin Business and Economic Alliance. Loden will outline a very relevant case study of how one region in central Wisconsin (which faced a massive downturn in the local paper industry), has embarked on a process of reinventing itself. There are many parallels and potential lessons between this area in Wisconsin and Del Norte County.
In May, a broad based community conversation process will start. As an initial step, people from across the community will be invited to participate in a Future Scenario Planning workshop, which will begin to chart a range of plausible future directions for Del Norte County. This exercise, which I will lead, will identify the common ground and shared aspirations for the future of the whole community, and start to lay out the "road map"forward.
This process will lay the foundation to create a major, longer term initiative to reinvigorate Del Norte County. As this initiative unfolds, there will be the opportunity for many people from all sections of the community to step up and be part of shaping a new future for Del Norte County.
This initial three-part "Testing the Waters" process has been funded by a $15,000 grant to the Crescent City-Del Norte Chamber of Commerce, from The Humboldt Area Foundation.