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Karen Mullins Benton/West City Chamber

Mullins

At a recent regional meeting of Southern Illinois chamber directors, the old adage of “a rising tide lifts all boats” was discussed. With working together, how can we be a further resource to help our members and the business community becomes more of a regional force in our state? How can we turn the tide? Make as many boats seaworthy as possible?

Being a resident of Illinois has become a bit difficult. And no, this is not going to be one of ‘those’ articles. With everything that appears to be going wrong in our state, we have to be reminded that there are many reasons to hope. Those pockets of hope are right here, not in Springfield or far off Chicago, but right in our own backyards. This area has a deep tradition of unique and innovative ideas, and it’s a tradition we celebrated just last month with the Southern Illinois Made Expo. Artisans, manufacturers, and local businesses came together to spotlight what is produced in our own hometowns. It reminds us that each of our communities is part of a larger framework and everyone can play a role in our region’s destiny.

As a Chamber Director, I interact with many businesses in our area and we struggle with topics like employment, the changing times, and trying to reach new audiences. How can our workforce prepare for the changing needs of Franklin County? For Southern Illinois in general? We cannot only look to our city limits or to the county line. People travel more and more within our region for work and entertainment. The world is at our fingertips on our phones and devices: shopping, news, and the latest trends. I’ve been happy to see something wonderful emerge from a whirl of memes: businesses banding together. They share and tag each other, work together to create consumer experiences, and refer to each other. Businesses compete for limited resources and customers, while struggling to support local fundraisers to keep our communities together. Though competition is still fierce, there is an emerging optimism despite the talent drain we all fear.

The next generation of business leaders is coming up through the ranks. We are concerned about them leaving, but we need to give them a voice and a ‘place at the table’ so they will stay. Our established businesses and chambers need to mentor them, encourage them to try new ventures, and celebrate their reinvestment in our community. We can all play a role in making our community better. Getting involved with your local chamber or civic government — understand the current policies and then look for ways to make them better. Hold them accountable if these policies unreasonably limit the potential of our area. Be the change you want to see. As consumers, look at your town as a visitor would. Be a tourist for the day; go into businesses that you wouldn’t normally visit. Encourage positive customer experiences so the occasional shopper becomes a regular. It’s easy to say what we should or shouldn’t’ do, but a little change here and there can make a world of difference in how we are seen as a region. Southern Illinois is so much more than our stigma and our regional attitude will lead the way in helping to raise the tide of growth.

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