Act locally think nationally

As has been recently noted, positive things seem to be sprouting up around town. In the last three days readers have been visited with reports on an improved JRMC Wellness Center, progress in the reclamation of The Pines mall, and just yesterday, news of a Walgreens store grand opening.

In the article focused on The Pines mall, the facility’s general manager, Scott Green, spoke about his goals for the facility: “We would like to get another national store here, but it’s fantastic that we got the six locals.”

There’s a real wisdom in Green’s approach. Yes, the local merchants are important, but national chains — that typically employ more people and have deeper pocketbooks — are vital to the local economy. They’re also strategically significant because they signal to other national brands that Pine Bluff is worthy of their investments.

This leads us to the Friday grand opening of the new Walgreens store at 2503 West 28th Avenue. While we were well-served by the USA Drug franchise, its sale to the Walgreens company signals a small, but important turning point. It says that outsiders are willing to share in our vision of growth and sustainability. They have finally started to embrace something we’ve known all along: Pine Bluff is worth investment.

By extension, we can then ask why places like Mississippi County have been chosen for a steel mill and its $1 billion cash influx; and why we weren’t. With all due respect, Mississippi County was heretofore not the most auspicious looking place to drop a billion dollars.

While Blytheville is an up and coming little city, the county as a whole has lower population, a lower rate of home ownership, lower average educational attainment…

Even so, they were a seemingly preferable spot. What they do have is a proximity to major transportation arteries that we don’t. While that’s poised to eventually change, watching Mississippi county take a huge leap forward is a bit unsettling.

How then, might we entice those on the outside to give us a look?

To begin, we must work on that all-important first impression. Most of the primary points of entry to Pine Bluff don’t paint an inviting picture. Property is not well-maintained. Trash blows down the streets like post-apocalypse tumble weeds. Stray animals roam like… um, packs of roving dogs. Pedestrians seem to ignore the existence of sidewalks. Many neighborhoods look like a good place to be murdered.

Whatever the true picture of crime and decay, we introduce outsiders by parading them through scary and decrepit environs. For better or worse, we can’t just clean the front room and hope company doesn’t need the bathroom. We must take immediate and declarative action to shore up our entire communal image.

We need to collectively and systematically present ourselves as we would like to be seen. Just as we likely wouldn’t go to church in our yard-work clothes, we need to clean up for company — more importantly, we need to clean up for companies.

If we fail to manage our image, then others will gladly step in to do it for us. Just ask Scott Green. Positioned as a den of business mortality, The Pines mall looked poised to become completely void of life.

Then a new sheriff came to town and decided to build on the untapped potential. Much of this was couched in cleaning up the place — making it look like someplace people might want to go. We could take lesson from that fine example.