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January 20, 2013

Securing a community's future

Occasionally, a town can celebrate a milestone in its progress. Rarer yet is the opportunity to celebrate two such markers toward our future. This week, we celebrate five.

About four years ago, some visionaries in our region pondered whether we have done enough to ensure our community’s sustainability. These discussions resulted in Vision 2040, a chance for our community to gaze into a crystal ball and glean which ghost of Plattsburgh future will emerge. These gatherings included a vital mix of young professionals and seasoned community leaders. The forums were apolitical because we were dealing with a future that was still decades away, not the present that dictates political campaigns.

A sobering message and a vibrant theme came from those series of three 2040 workshops. If we did nothing, we would experience the same rural decay that other regions suffer. However, if we can attract the young people who will ensure generations of workforce participants beyond our own retirement, we can share for generations what we have come to love in our region.

These realizations are more subtle than they first appear. The demographics demonstrated that our region is aging. Those who stay here throughout their career tend to retire here, but many who are born here pick up their roots and move to urban centers. If we don’t bring them back, or bring other young workers here in their stead, our community ages.

Some argue that we can sustain without young people. They point to retirement communities that don’t worry about such messy economic artifacts as industries, regional exports, etc. They fail to see that even a financially well-endowed retirement community still needs services and working-age people. As our community ages, we need hospitals and medical services, accessible shopping, financial and other services, roads and fire halls. We need enough working-age people to provide these services, and the infrastructure they need for their families. An elderly community, especially, must attract new families because they are beyond the age to procreate their own future workforce.

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