Action needed to avert dismal future
The year is 2043 and the place is Marion. Main Street still shows evidence of a grant it was awarded in 2013 for a facelift to the downtown area, but the weeds growing through the cracks of the sidewalks and the deteriorating storefronts are trying to erase that evidence.
The hospital is no longer state of the art, but in fair enough condition to see patients. All the students in the school district are now meeting in the middle school/high school building; the elementary school is empty due to decades of declining enrollment.
Many homes are vacant with young trees growing up around them. Repairs have been delayed too long for roads with potholes throughout the ones that were never switched from asphalt to concrete. Stray dogs and cats roam the town. The town is a barely living museum of what used to be and simultaneously what is to come.
Does this word picture disturb you? Does it make you uncomfortable? It is where we are headed if we do not establish businesses in our community that pay employees living wages. What do I mean by living wages? I mean wages that pay people enough that they don’t need to seek government benefits in order to survive.
“But wait,” you’re thinking, “you’ve said in other columns you’ve written that you are not a businessman.”
I don’t debate that at all. I’m not a businessman, which is why I am writing this column. I am hoping that someone or some folks reading this column will recognize the dire situation that we are in as a community.
As a school board member, I sit in the USD 408 District Office every month where I see the statistics of a school district that has been experiencing decreasing enrollment for the last few years. Decreasing enrollment is a symptom of a larger problem. It is reflective of the fact that we don’t have a substantial enough job base in our town to support parents who are raising children. One of my daughter’s classmates left Marion in the middle of the school year because his parents found jobs in a larger city.
The answer is not another antique store. The answer is not another restaurant. We don’t need jobs that pay minimum wage or more jobs that qualify as being in the service industry. We are in need of industry that provides living wage jobs to its employees.
One of the tenets of the Republican Party is that the economy is built on the back of small business. If we as a city in a Republican state believe that then it is time for us to start building our local economy on the back of small businesses.
We cannot wait for Topeka to do it for us, we’re lucky if they know Marion exists. We certainly cannot wait for Washington, D.C., to do it; we know they don’t know Marion exists. We will need to do this through the people that live in Marion and the people that love Marion.
“But hold on a second”, you think, “You are constantly saying you love this town.”
Again, you won’t hear me debate this. I do love this town. I think the people are great, the location is great, and the sense of community is great. The reason I am writing this column is because I love this town so much. It is my hope that others in this community who have the intelligence and the resources, and who love this town as much as I do will come together to figure out how we move forward.
Where do we find an entrepreneur with real promise in whom it will be worth investing? How do we convince that person to bring their business or business idea to Marion?
The situation is urgent but it is not a problem that insurmountable. I believe within our community the resources exist to bring these businesses to town. It won’t happen overnight, but it needs to begin now so that in 2043 the town is beautiful, the schools are full and, the hospital remains a significant asset to our community. Are you financially or intellectually able to address these issues? If so, you are who we need to lead us.