The America’s Best Communities competition. When you first read the name – it seems obvious that this is a competition that focuses on strengths. After all, being the best is all about strengths, right? Which community has more opportunities for growth? Which community can best maximize the assets it has? And which community can best work together to take their own unique advantages and leverage them to create a new and promising future for their region, city or town.
Certainly, a focus on strengths is an element to this wonderful contest. But it’s not the only thing that the ABC competition focuses on. There’s another side to the coin – a community’s challenges and its weaknesses. And while they aren’t topics that a community wants to shout from the rooftops about – they are crucial aspects to the economic development strategies being developed by many of the eight finalist communities.
Why would a community focus on its less-than-desirable aspects? Because oftentimes the summit of success is forged from the depths of drawbacks and disappointment – and how a community responds and reacts to hardship can be a wonderful indicator of just how strong that community is.
For some communities, the challenges are institutional. Chisago Lakes, MN, for example, cites the extremely limited number of higher education opportunities that exist in their county as a hurdle to overcome, as well as infrastructural weaknesses like limited broadband access.
In other cases, the challenges are more serious. During Huntington, West Virginia’s presentation at the ABC Summit, the mayor of Huntington emphasized the need to overcome the community’s nagging drug problem – the result of Huntington’s location at the crossroads of drug trafficking between several nearby metropolitan cities.
And sometimes, a community’s challenges are rooted in terrible tragedy. The ultimate example of this is Arlington and Darrington, WA, which experienced a devastating mudslide that took 43 lives and temporarily closed State Highway 530, the main connection between these two communities.
Could these communities have given up and resigned themselves to being merely mediocre? Certainly no one could blame them for doing so. Lifting up a community isn’t easy work, and it’s not for the timid. But there’s a reason these communities are among the eight best communities in America. They’ve stared challenges like these in the face, and have developed and started to execute strategies to overcome them.
Of course, the America’s Best Communities competition looks at all aspects of a community – its strengths, weaknesses and most importantly, its plans for revitalization. But it’s inspiring to know that many of the eight finalists are laser-focused on turning disappointment and loss into a winning strategy for success. For these communities, the words of 19th century social reformer Henry Ward Beecher ring true – “One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.”