AAA’s will turn Natchez around

Published 12:24 am Sunday, May 20, 2018

collective sense of dread looms about the direction in which the Natchez area is headed.

With a declining population and sputtering economy, the trajectory seems alarming to many.

But as many commencement speeches this time of year suggest, the future is not pre-determined for us. We can choose to be apathetic, wring our hands and complain about what we don’t have or lament about what once was. However, if every single one of us joined hands and whined and cried about our community’s shortcomings, the effort would not change a thing.

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Let’s also get one thing straight. While we may collectively think of the Natchez area of yesteryear as some kind of idealistic Nirvana, that was hardly the truth, at least not for every resident. Many locals reminisce about the 1950s and 1960s as Natchez’s glory days. That may have been true for some, but many, many residents — particularly those with dark skin — would disagree.

No, Natchez will never be what it was in the past, and we need to collectively get comfortable with that idea. It can, however, get better than in the past, but it will be a challenge. Whining and complaining is much, much easier, but far less rewarding.

If we want the Natchez area —including all of Adams County, Concordia Parish and the surrounding areas — to grow, we need to focus intently on the three As — Aspiration, Aim and Action.

Aspiration is simple: the ambitious hope of achieving some goal.

To start that discussion think about this simple question: What do we want our community to be?

Do we want it to be a town whose best years are in its past? Do we seek people from the outside to think of Natchez as a place where its citizens squabble and stay comfortably clinging to the status quo?

Or do we want Natchez to become known for something different?

Many years ago, some smart civic-minded person in nearby Brookhaven dubbed the town, “A Home Seeker’s Paradise,” even slapping a great big sign with the slogan across a downtown street.

Over time, it stuck and now many, many people go to Brookhaven for a nice quality of life and a place to find a good home for their family.

That town had aspiration.

What should Natchez’s sign say?

Natchez feels lacking in aspiration now. Like a small airplane, its engine seems sputtering, but it’s got plenty of altitude to recover and land safely. We just need to stay calm and methodically work to recover. A number of small businesses have closed of late, due in part to two things — a slowing local economy and a smaller population of potential customers.

Those customers who remain must be intentional in their spending, focusing on supporting local businesses. If we want a vibrant downtown or a wide selection of restaurants and other merchants, residents must choose to be patrons, putting their money where their aspiration is. Think less Amazon, less Baton Rouge and more local. Once we decide what we want to be, we have to Aim on a trajectory to get us there.

The FOR Natchez non-profit group has helped local citizens create a revitalization plan for areas of downtown Natchez. While the plan isn’t perfect — none are — and it doesn’t perform miracles, at least it’s a solid plan for one piece of our community’s aspiration. Let’s aim on that plan together.

Finally, Natchez needs Action.

Without aspiration and aim, action is like screaming into a windstorm.

We need better accountability in government. We need better, more civic-minded people running for office, people with experience in business and management. Natchez and Adams County also need to be led by a single government entity. It would be more efficient and accountable.

We need term limits on elected leaders. If you cannot accomplish your goals in eight years, it’s time to pass the baton to someone else.

Action requires all of us to get our hands dirty and perhaps our feelings hurt sometimes too. But in the process, we cannot lose focus on the aspiration. What do you want Natchez to become? I welcome your feedback and look forward hearing the ideas of others.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or