10 ½ Signs of Civic Success

June 23, 2021 | Written by: sanford-user

By John Dean, Economic Development Manager

How do we define community and economic success? Is it measured simply by the number of good jobs or high school graduates? Can we also measure how we achieve these important outcomes? In short, is there a common fabric or foundation shared among successful communities?

These are the questions that James and Deborah Fallows set out to answer in their 2018 national bestselling book, Our Towns: A 100,000-mile Journey into the Heart of America. Over the course of five years, the couple visited dozens of communities, from small towns to large cities, speaking with community leaders such as elected officials, economic developers, teachers, and business owners, as well as residents on park benches and in diners. The authors traveled by a single-engine prop airplane to each destination, allowing them to appreciate the true distance and uniqueness between each of these communities.

Whether a community that today may already be considered “hip,” such as Burlington, Vermont and Duluth, Minnesota, or a surprising community well on its way, such as Garden City, Kansas, successful communities seem to share more in common than not. In their visits, the authors found that each of these successful communities, whether already nationally recognized as successful, or on the rebound, share what they call the “10 ½ Signs of Civic Success”:

  1. People work together on practical local possibilities, rather than allowing bitter disagreements about national politics to keep them apart.
  2. You can pick out the local patriots.
  3. The phrase “public-private partnership” refers to something real.
  4. People know the civic stories.
  5. They have downtowns.
  6. They are near a research university.
  7. They have, and care about, a community college.
  8. They have distinctive, innovative schools.
  9. They make themselves open.
  10. They have big plans.

10 ½. At least one craft brewery, maybe more, and probably some small distilleries. (On this one, the authors add: “It sounds like a joke, but it explains a lot.”)

What do these signs of civic success mean to you? When you consider the successes of Lee County (whatever those are to you), do they reflect any of the above “Signs of Civic Success?” What about future opportunities in Sanford? What do you consider are the untapped opportunities in our community that may be reflected in the above list?

As economic and community developers, it is critical to acknowledge and follow guiding principles in our goal of building thriving communities. For me, this list of civic success is one of those guiding principles. The more of these “signs” that our community can check off, the more appealing our community is to both businesses seeking to expand and for our home-grown workforce to stay and raise a family in Lee County.

For all of us as community residents, this list provides a perspective on how to gauge our own growth. No matter your role in our community, I suggest printing out the “10 ½ Signs of Civic Success,” taping it somewhere easy to see, and consider how your work, every day, is strengthening our future for civic success.