Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rich Town, Poor Town

I am reading the book "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" and came to think about my city, Alton IL. In my lifetime it has gone from being a busy and labor-intensive town to one that has weathered the times despite the loss of great manufacturing plants.

In short, Alton went from being the town where the "poor dad" worked to being the town where the poor dad survives - but barely.

Now, in this town, there has always been a "rich dad" here and there. It depends upon whom you ask, though, what the answer is to the question, "who in Alton is rich?" And the answers vary widely because there may not be truly "wealthy or rich" persons living out in the open. Sure, there are homes worth millions of dollars in the Riverbend --- look up on the bluffs above the Great River Road and you can see some of those which were built to last. Due to the location of those homes, they're worth a lot of dough. No "poor dad" would turn down such a home IF they were to ever accumulate enough money to purchase one. But, that's not my point.

In Alton, the great manufacturing companies left town. Now there is an obvious economic impact that the departure of the Owens-Illinois Glass Company left --- a wake which shook the very foundation of labor in the area. Labor, dare I say it, also felt the devastating loss when the old Alton Boxboard Company (and Jefferson-Smurfit) was gobbled up and moved out of Alton, as well as the manufacturing of shift after shift at the OLD Laclede Steel. Rail companies, long a stable influence on the economies of those with rail lines, pulled many lines out of Alton along with other smaller cities. These left what was once a heritage-laden city with huge holes --- the labor forces were not only diminished, but devastated. The population diminished from the 1950s to the 21st Century in terms of both manufacturing plants and jobs and overall population in Alton. But, most people know this if they've spent any considerable time in Alton.

But what is it that can change the outcome of Alton? A new mentality, similar to that which was present in the early 1800s in this region.

Yes, I am saying there must be a wholesale change in mindset to inject a new growth into the Riverbend. And this change will be slow if the current leaders of the city are not able and willing to adhere to a stricter change than that which they are leading.

I am making two statements which are opinions: 1) the current leaders are effecting some change in the area; 2) those changes are not enough or fast enough to stimulate a gigantic growth.

We need gigantic growth in Alton, not subtle change. We need dramatic gains, not slow and systemic walking through change --- it must be a race against the clock every day of every month of every year in the next decade --- or even the next 24 months.

So --- what will spur this dramatic growth and gain? First, make others want to be here for the tourism that the current and last generation of leaders have helped showcase. There are reasons that St. Louisans come to visit Alton --- but there must be a reason for Chicagoans, New Yorkers, those from Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Detroit, Seattle and other corners of the continent and around the world must find has attracted them to Alton and the Riverbend. But what things may all these places have "in common" in order to make this happen?

Alton needs to be the entertainment capitol that it will become. We have the universal sound of music.

When I say something dramatic must occur, I mean we have to put out the welcome mat for all musicians, singers, and music-lovers. Alton is the destination for music enthusiasts and music makers.

You want to know why and how this will occur. WHY is easy: we have always had a thriving music industry in Alton and the Riverbend, and we can capitalize upon that rich heritage and strike a chord (pun intended) in the music world and promote, promote, promote our rich musical history and those who love music. HOW is not so easy unless it is done dramatically. So, the how is this simple: once the city has opened up the opportunities for musicians to show up and for music lovers to come into town in the millions of visitors every year --- it will soon follow. And there's a "why to the how" in the 21st Century --- in that we have instant community through the internet and our wireless world to effect the change we need in order to challenge those who have never been here to see why they want to be here.

And interestingly enough, the smaller manufacturing companies will see that Alton is a good enough city to keep an international presence.

We can again see this great American city flourish and become a "rich town" again. But it must happen through the visionaries who employ a strategic slogan of:

"Come to Alton now. Come to Alton later. Just come to Alton, Illinois, and be satisfied."