Some will argue its role in a community and all who do so are in full right of this opinion.
But it is not a view we share.
That’s because if history has shown us anything, it is that communities that do not continue to grow — either gradually or rapidly or somewhere in that vast in between — are doomed to offer less and less opportunity to the people who call them home.
We are reminded of the wise counsel of Tom Wheeler, retired president and CEO of Cleveland Utilities, who spent 43 years in the industry. And during that time, Wheeler served his community actively in civic and economic development posts, one of which was to chair the pivotal Cleveland/Bradley Industrial Development Board.
In a 2013 interview with our newspaper, just days ahead of his well-deserved retirement, Wheeler told us, and here we will paraphrase, “... When a community stops growing, it begins to die.”
Some might argue, “Is a smaller, quieter and less congested town such a bad thing?” Probably not, if relaxation is a resident’s principal ambition. For most, it is not.
People need jobs.
People need opportunity.
People need education.
People need recreation.
People need exposure to retail.
People need entertainment.
People need access to modern medicine.
People need professional services.
People need the chance to interact with diverse cultures and new ways.
People need a reason to stay home instead of traveling to bigger towns that are bigger, brighter and less safe.
People need amenities that excite the imagination and satisfy the thirst for “something different.”
People need selection.
People need something to which to point and to ask their children, “What does another town or state or region offer that you can’t find here?”
People need a hunger for expanding their horizons beyond work and play: Political involvement, civic interest and unlimited volunteerism, just to name a few.
People need a means to build better lives through improved pay and competitive cost-of-living compensation.
People need a big-city market in a small-town feel.
People need the chance to build a bank account for travel while always knowing there’s a place back home.
People need a nice restaurant.
People need a place to enjoy with their families.
People need shopping.
People need new car lots that are just a couple of miles away.
People need a modern mall.
People need a revitalized downtown.
People need choice in religion.
People need a Courthouse.
People need a City Hall.
People need professional law enforcement.
People need trained firefighters.
People need emergency services.
People need to feel safe.
People need good schools and dedicated teachers.
People need the comfort of working in schools and the chance to teach while doing both right here at home.
People need to Facebook a distant friend or Tweet a faraway family member with this update, “Look what our town just got!”
People need people.
People need people with shared interests and common dreams.
People need a place to hang their hat.
People need a place to call home.
Communities that do not grow cannot offer most of the list above. They can provide some. But can they satisfy a young person’s craving for something more?
We believe the answer is no.
For the past few years, Cleveland’s growth has been phenomenal. Yet, it has never failed to deliver upon the promise of a hometown feel.
Cleveland, Charleston and Bradley County must continue to grow. It doesn’t have to come overnight. In fact, it shouldn’t. Such sudden expansion would overload an infrastructure that is already greatly tested.
Growth doesn’t mean the bright lights of New York City. Growth means jobs and opportunity and security and family.
Quoting from the Hollywood classic “Field of Dreams,” may we offer, “If you build it, he will come.”
We’re not talking about ballfields in the middle of a cornfield or clear-cutting a forest without planning for the next generation.
We’re talking about opportunity.
And we know of no better place to start than through growth.