Growing up in Clinton County, I often repeated the refrain uttered by generations of kids on hot summer days — there’s nothing to do here.
There is something especially powerful about “somewhere else” that captures the young minds of kids growing up in small towns. It eventually became clear that waiting for something exciting to happen to me was a lost cause, and that if something interesting was going to happen I would have to go out and create it.
I was lucky to have a gang of friends who refused to give into boredom and worked together to entertain ourselves and those around us. One of our most notable creations started on a slow fall day when we decided to fill our afternoon by hosting an NFL-style tailgate party in an empty Wilmington High School parking lot before a high school soccer game.
After grilling some burgers and hot dogs, our small crew of fans paraded down to the stadium chanting and pounding on five-gallon paint buckets which had mysteriously materialized. We found ourselves to be the only fans in the stands, but we screamed and pounded our buckets to support our team and drum up some fun for ourselves.
On that day we never could have imagined that this small act of creation would snowball, and it birthed a tradition of WHS sports “superfans” that continues today.
Growing up in Wilmington, experiences like these taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my life.
First, I learned that it really was possible to shape the world around me, and the experience of doing so was fun and exciting.
Second, I learned that in a small town like Wilmington, someone with an idea and some energy could create something new, having an immediate impact and receiving the support of an encouraging community.
Finally, I learned that seemingly small and inconsequential actions and acts of creation could snowball and grow and take on a life of their own.
I never could have imagined how valuable these lessons I learned growing up in Wilmington would be.
In 2008, we faced one of the darkest times in our community’s history — DHL’s announcement that it would be ending its operation in Wilmington left us all stunned. In conversations with friends, family, and neighbors, I was so inspired that the anxiety people were feeling didn’t lead to a sense of defeat or despair, but instead provided motivation and drive to get to work rebuilding and recreating the community we love.
It reminded me of feeling that my friends and I shared growing up: there is no use waiting for something to happen, so we might as well create it ourselves.
It was on this idea that Energize Clinton County was founded in 2008. We believed then, and we continue to believe nine years later, that our local economy is not something that exists beyond us as something that can be given or taken away, but it is something that we create each day by the decisions that we make and by our daily acts of creation.
Our approach to economic development isn’t about attracting the next big employer, it’s about building a stronger community helping people become more aware and engaged in the process of creating our local economy.
We do this in several ways. We help people keep their money in our local economy by creating a marketplace which connects them with the local entrepreneurs that continue our agricultural heritage at the Clinton County Farmers’ Market. We provide opportunities for people to gain new training and skills that make them more creative, more innovative, and more productive through our Reach Clinton County coding and development training program and our solar energy training program. We help young people see and experience the incredible impact that they can have as business and community leaders through our Clinton Community Fellows Program.
And looking forward, we want to put the actual tools and technology of creation and innovation in the hands of our community at the Pioneer Labs makerspace, which we are hard at work developing.
We encourage the community to get involved in participating or supporting our programs. You can find more info about Energize Clinton County and our work at http://2016.energizecc.com.