America's Best Communities

 

 

 

America's Best Communities

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America's Best Communities America's Best Communities

Several companies have called on U.S. communities to show why they’re America’s Best.

The America’s Best Communities competition began in 2014 with towns from across the U.S. signing up to demonstrate how their community is paving the way to a resilient and vibrant future.

RFD-TV was in attendance at the summit where they presented their vision… hoping to be selected as one of the eight finalists.

Read more about the eight finalists below, including Chisago Lakes Area, Minnesota; Darrington/Arlington, Washington; Huntington, West Virginia; Lake Havasu City, Arizona; Madison, Indiana; Statesboro, Georgia; Tualatin, Oregon; and Valley County/Meadows Valley, Idaho.  Each community is hoping to continue on and receive $6 million in top prizes.

Chisago Lakes Area, Minnesota
A five-team comprised of Chisago, Center City, Lindstrom, Shafer, Taylors Falls 

The Chisago Lakes’ story is a tale of two economies. In the summer, high temperatures are over 100 degrees. As a beautifully picturesque area, tourism is high, the community regularly gathers at outdoor events. In winter, however, the temperature swings by 100-120 degrees. Often, temperatures are subzero and sometimes reach -20 or even -30, with days and days of cloudy weather. Instead of seeing this as an economic disruption, the region embraces it. They celebrate the winter with polar plunges, a Celebration of the Lakes, snowmobiling, ice fishing, skating and hockey. It results in an economic transformation. Its local ski hill Wild Mountain is usually the first to open in the Midwest. 

Another quirk of the Chisago Lakes Area is that it is a hotbed for Swedish and Swedish-American tourists. The City of Lindstrom is nicknamed America’s Little Sweden. Swedish tourists often visit the location where Vilhelm Moberg wrote the trilogy ‘The Emigrants’ tracing the Swedish Immigrant story to the U.S. in the 1830’s.

Darrington-Arlington, Washington
Oso landslide – On Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 10:37 a.m., a major landslide occurred four miles east of Oso, Washington, a community located directly between Arlington and Darrington on State Route 530. A portion of unstable hill collapsed, sending mud and debris across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, engulfing a rural neighborhood and covering an area of approximately 1 square mile. Tragically, 43 people were killed. 

The Oso slide is the deadliest singe landslide event in U.S. history, excluding landslides caused by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or dam collapses.

Huntington, West Virginia
Huntington is battling the heroin and opioid epidemic that has plagued the city and so many others across Appalachia and the nation. Political leaders, nonprofits, law enforcement, places of worship, neighborhood groups and prevention and treatment providers have come together in ways never witnessed before to fight the epidemic. It started in fall 2014 when Mayor Steve Williams launched the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, recognizing that the community cannot arrest its way out of the problem and instead must address it with prevention, treatment and compassion. 

Huntington is also the home of Marshall University. In 1970, Marshall’s football team was in a plane crash, which killed 75 players, coaches and community leaders. The tragedy – and the community’s resiliency and determination to overcome it – were depicted in the 2006 film “We Are Marshall.”

Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Lake Havasu City’s closest neighbor is nearly 40 miles away. That means the city must be self-sufficient when it comes to workforce, education and quality of life amenities.  This leads them to confront a challenge known as demographic starvation. In his book, “When the Boomers Bail,” author Mark Lautman defines demographic starvation as a community that cannot find enough qualified workers to staff the economic base.  The result is an economy that is not sustainable.  In 2007, the median age of Lake Havasu City residents was 45.  In 2015, the median age rose to 53, compared to the national average of 37. As a result, the labor participation rate is small and declining because most residents and newcomers are retired and not in the workforce.  And many high school graduates are going elsewhere for college and not returning home. 

Also, the West, especially the Southwest, is extremely concerned with drought. Water is our most precious resource, and Lake Havasu City has identified it as a key pillar in securing the community’s future. A component of their plan focuses on water research and education.  Through regional partnerships, over the next 11 months, the city will implement a program to monitor the health of, and track environmental threats to, the lake and river and their importance to the economy.

Madison, Indiana
Madison is heavily focused on quality of life improvements that most people typically think are reserved for larger cities. It has taken a strong focus on walkability and bikeability, working to enhance trails and greenways in the city. In addition, Madison has numerous examples of adaptive reuse of historic buildings. 

 In 2014, Madison was also home to an extremely unique engineering marvel – the “largest bridge slide in the world.” They built their new bridge that crosses the Ohio River right next to the old one. Engineers then used explosives to demolish the old one, then “slid” the new one over to the existing piers. 

Statesboro, Georgia
Like many small cities, Statesboro is home to a high-quality university that helps drive its success. Now, the city wants to deepen its ties with Georgia Southern University and build better connections between its downtown and the school. Their plan will revitalize a main corridor that connects the university to downtown — and it could be come a model for rural towns that are home to colleges. 

Tualatin, Oregon
Tualatin has been undergoing an impressive transformation. Up until just a few years ago, Tualatin’s gateway was anchored by a strip club called “Jiggles”; when people came to Tualatin, they were told to get off the freeway at the “Jiggles exit”.  Today, the same gateway is a world-class retail destination anchored by Cabela’s and other high-end retail and restaurants.  25 years ago, the center of town was a dog-food factory, belching odors into the air; today, because of city investment, that same area is a mixed-use development anchored by a man-made lake ringed by restaurants, a hotel, businesses and residences.  

Now the city is looking ahead with its Tualatin Tomorrow vision, and a key component of it is making sure their community has a highly skilled workforce. Many small communities face serious challenges in keeping and retaining its workforce, as they are constantly competing with larger metro areas. 

Valley County/Meadows Valley, Idaho
Valley County is a resort community, and tourism is a leading economic driver. It is a beautiful part of the country that has become a tremendous location for adventurers in both the winter and summer. It’s also a reason why they’re confronting an issue that many small communities are facing: access to workforce housing, or housing that workers in key industries are able to afford. They’ve created a housing trust to build a sustainable way to build affordable housing. In addition, their economy is also seriously affected by swings in weather, either lack of snow or low-water years.

Interestingly, among the 15 ABC semifinalists, Valley County is the smallest community in terms of population and the largest in geographic size. 

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