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Looking for the great American town, part 1

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By Joshua Shepherd

During an interview I had with Nell Anne Gossett and Jody Hendricks, the co-directors of the upcoming Steel Magnolias production, Gossett turned the tables on me.
She was curious about my impressions of Cynthiana since joining the Democrat.
I loved the conversation, but reflecting on it afterward, I was not satisfied with  my response. Typically for me, it was more a ramble than an answer. I’m not particularly good at speaking extemporaneously, even if the subject — Kentucky’s small towns — is something about which I am fairly passionate.
For readers who would prefer a more definitive answer to that question, I am going to refer you to the introduction I composed for the 2014 Cynthiana Answer Book and the brief profiles that I wrote on Harrison County for the Greater Louisville Medical Society — www.providersinky.com.
For whatever reason, the subject of small community economic development has been a recurring theme for me all this week.
It started last Wednesday  when Dr. Alison Davis, the executive director of the Community Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), was the guest speaker at the Chamber of Commerce’s membership luncheon.
In her presentation, Dr. Davis touched on two points that resonated very deeply with me.
First, she talked at length about the importance of health care to the economic well-being of any community, small or large.
While this point may seem obvious, it always strikes me as a major omission that the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s “Think Kentucky” website contain no information about a county’s health care system. And yet, Davis points out that health care access is one of the top three concerns of a company considering relocation.
She concluded her talk with a point that seemed equally as obvious as healthcare, but had not occurred to me. Even though I have been one among many voices that have moaned about our children not returning home.
But have those of us wanting to move our towns forward economically ever thought about asking college students and young adults what it would take to bring them back home?
Honestly, amid all my complaining about losing our “best and brightest,” it never occurred to me to ask?
It may be because I am one of the few that prefers small community living.
I like being within driving distance of larger cities so that I can attend a concert, a live theater production, catch a Reds game or see the Wildcats play.
But I cannot abide congested living.
If I had to spend my daily work commute stuck in Lexington’s rush hour, my contribution to the News would be live coverage of my meltdown on New Circle Road.
And that’s just Lexington traffic.
But even when I spent time talking with professionals about all that’s  appealing in small communities, I got frustrated by their blank, uncomprehending expressions.
That is until those young people got married and had children. Suddenly a nice quiet community like Cynthiana became much more attractive.
But these young couples still had interests that some small towns may not realize they don’t provide.
In Nicholas County and Harrison County, I have heard long time residents talk about the things that “used to be here.” In fact, I sat in on a class that Sally Kinney taught that focused specifically on Cynthiana’s past.
But at the end of that class, many of us agreed that while there continue to be challenges, Harrison County’s prospects for continued growth have not dimmed.
But our future development will likely not return us to Cynthiana-Harrison County circa 1970.
It will be Cynthiana-Harrison County 2020. And it’s going to be different. We need to look to our “best and brightest” to discover what “different” needs to be.