Focus on Increasing the Population

Community colleges, like Fulton-Montgomery Community College, have a complex mission. FM’s reads: “Fulton-Montgomery Community College provides accessible higher education and quality programs with a focus on student success. FM partners with the community through engagement in economic development and by providing cultural and intellectual opportunities.” The key point for this essay is the partnership with the community.

As the region’s community college, FM has hosted numerous companies, elected officials, community members and organizations on our campus for a variety of discussions; not the least of which have centered around the need for employees in our area. The Fulton – Montgomery Region is not unique in its need for workers. Indeed, these discussions are happening all across the state and country; how we address it will determine our future.

The need for employees relates to several factors. They are: a) the economy has been improving over the past several years and companies are getting busier; b) our population has been shrinking over the past several decades; and, c) our population is aging. Young people are leaving. In fact, the local school districts are working with hundreds of fewer students today than just two years ago. A recent transportation study shows a continuing decline in population over the next few years. We can accept this population decline or we can try to do something about it. I recommend that latter.

Our two counties need to focus on recruiting more people to live and work in our communities. We need to reach out to surrounding communities and talk about why Fulton and Montgomery Counties are nice places to live and raise a family. We need to demonstrate that our region does, in fact, have a wonderful combination of rural, outdoor activities and contemporary shopping. We have social gathering spaces and enjoyable restaurants. While they may not all be on one street, like Saratoga, they are here.

We need to reach out to those who graduated from our school districts and moved out to explore big cities. Many of those folks, who are getting a little older now, would consider returning and raising a family in more familiar, and smaller, communities. Many young folks in their thirties are looking for safe and quieter cities and towns in which to live and work. We have those and should market them.

We need to be open to bringing people to our community who may not look like us. There are people in Puerto Rico who are looking for a place to live since their Island has been devastated by hurricanes. There are people around the world who are fleeing terrorists, totalitarian regimes and racial cleansing who would be wonderful assets to our community. There are people who would love our way of life, but don’t even know we’re here.

We also need to stop putting ourselves down. We should not have a look of shock on our face when someone says they moved to our region. We should not ask, “Why would you move here?” when we welcome someone to our neighborhood. Rather, we should take time to show them around our towns when they arrive.

We need to develop areas of our cities and towns that offer diverse living options like higher end apartments, condominiums and townhouses. We need to bring developers to our region and explain a vision for the future. We need to come together to benefit the region and not just focus on our city or village.

If we don’t focus on increasing our population, it will continue to decline and we will face a problematic future. There is work; there are wonderful homes; and, people can prosper here in our region.

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