Alchemy in Scottsburg, Indiana

[imgbelt img=scottsburgcenter530.jpg]Spurred by an insult, led by a strong mayor and grounded in volunteerism, Scottsburg, Indiana, has replenished itself as both a community and a regional economic force.


[imgcontainer left] [img:Scottsburgbrochure320.jpg]  The Scottsburg Story: A Partnership of Leaders 1988-2006 by Haley Glover documents a rural city’s revival.

Community development grows from shared dreams and visions. It is nurtured by patient but determined and persistent leadership that successfully brings people together to work toward common goals. It is sustained by the willingness of people to seek opportunities, take risks, and continue to pursue the ever-out-there long term.

Community development practice is art and science. But art and science only go so far. Community development is also alchemy, some “it” factor that brings communities together to turn dreams and visions into reality.

Community alchemy – getting the lead out and reaching for the “gold” of healthy environment, healthy individuals and families, social well-being, and economic security – is not the stuff of the mythical philosophers’ stone. It happens. The magic is something to be celebrated, not only in the successful communities themselves but by the rest of us, too. This is the stuff of epic stories.

Rural Scottsburg, Indiana, is certainly a place to celebrate. In early October I visited the small town of 6,700 in the southeastern part of the state and heard a heartening story. In 1988, Scottsburg was skidding. Despite the rough economy of the past few years, this town persists at the task of building its community and economy, a sustained effort for the better part of a generation. The results so far are wondrous, not only for Scottsburg but for Scott County and its surrounding region.

Mayor William H. Graham is part of the alchemy that moved the town and county forward. His leadership efforts have buttressed at least one professional maxim: “Community and economic development go hand in hand.” 

In 1988, a new Japanese plant that made steel wires for radial tires opened in Scottsburg’s industrial park. The firm’s president told Graham he was dubious about locating there because people didn’t seems to hold any pride in where they lived. The downtown was half vacant at the time.

The mayor was struck, perhaps stung, by this comment. Instead of becoming defensive, the former banker took the observation to heart. He recruited volunteers to build well-managed organizations with achievable goals. He encouraged enthusiastic leadership that not only recognized the importance of volunteers but lauded their accomplishments. The growing cadre of leaders attracted both newcomers and born-and-raised residents and drew them into building a community-wide critical mass for change.