Monday, February 20, 2012

Celebrating our Strengths

Over the last few days, there have been stories in our local newspaper that have been both positive and negative that need further discussion. Unfortunately, the negative story that got my attention was on the front page with a big negative headline and was not entirely true. The other story was something very positive for our community but it had a basic, run of the mill headline and a small story on page 3 or 4.

In defense of our newspaper, it is just like most news mediums these days; focus on the negative because that is what sells. But it is amazing to me that a local newspaper would not want to sell the community it calls home a little more often by touting the good and not sensationalizing the not so good.

So that is my hope in this column. There is plenty of negative in this world. But all too often there is positive news, things to be proud of, and things we should celebrate – but our humanness leads us to the dark side. I am not advocating that we should blindly overlook the areas we need to improve in, but I am saying there is plenty to celebrate in our community.

The three areas I will briefly outline are strengths for our community: our community’s access to excellent healthcare, the safety of our community, and our access to high quality education in our community. These three community attributes provide us a competitive advantage in our economic development efforts and benefit each and every one of us that called Greater Dalton home.

Imagine my surprise last week when the above-the-fold front page headline proclaimed crime was a serious issue for our community. Crime is always a concern and all of us wish we had zero crime in our community. But to look at ten years worth of data and state that due to an 8% increase in certain crime statistics that we have a crime wave occurring is misleading. In fact, the crime statistics presented clearly illustrate that incidents of crime in 2011 were less than half of what they were back in 2002 and 2003.

The reporter went on to infer that one of the causes of the “spike” was the economy. Interestingly our incidents of crime were the worst back in 2002-2003 when our local economy was booming. During the last three years when we have faced extreme economic headwinds, the numbers show we have a very safe community.

Not being a sociologist, I do not know why our crime rate is what it is. I cannot speak to the social issues that produce the types and numbers of criminal behavior that does occur. But I can look at the data and discern that we are blessed to live in a very safe community. And that our community is safe because of the dedicated public safety and judicial professionals in our community. From our Sheriff’s office, to our city police departments, our correctional officers, our District Attorneys, and our judges - we are blessed by their efforts.

Recently I had the opportunity to hear an update from our hospital and physicians about a program they have been working on for months. The Clinical Integration program is primarily a voluntary effort on behalf of Hamilton Medical System and most of our local physicians to measure the effectiveness in improving the outcomes of medical care. In other words, every participating physician has the data from treating their patients downloaded into a database where over time the medical community can benchmark best practices for treating different medical conditions. Quality healthcare and better treatment will be an outcome of this innovative approach to medicine.

During this same week, our newspaper ran a story acknowledging Hamilton Medical Center’s recognition as being in the top 5% of all hospitals in the nation for quality care. In our region only Hamilton Medical Center and Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga received this prestigious designation. Again as a community and economic development professional, I am grateful that we have such wonderful healthcare resources in our community. I applaud all of our dedicated healthcare professionals who worked so diligently to take of us.

And finally, I have been on the record as one who supports and desires reforming the American Education system. I strongly believe that for America to compete globally, we have to continuously seek to make significant improvements in how we educate our children and future workforce.

But working for continuous improvement and desiring education transformation does not mean that our local school assets are less than adequate. Quite the opposite is true. If you were to spend any amount of time in our schools, both k-12 schools and our higher education institutions, you would quickly see how blessed we are. Looking beyond the next standardized test score, one can find real innovative approaches in our schools striving to provide our students with the educational achievement they need.

Are we where we want to be or need to be? No, but we have dedicated teachers, administrators, and school board members who are constantly looking for ways to improve. They care about our children and our communities. And the business community is committed to working as a partner in making our educational assets the best possible.

There is and always will be areas we need to be improving in. But as I visit communities all around us, we are better than average in at least the areas of healthcare, crime and safety, and education. All of us who have the responsibility of community development appreciate the outstanding efforts of our healthcare, public safety and judicial, and education professionals who make Greater Dalton great!

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