homepage logo

What is a healthy community?

By Staff | Apr 6, 2009

Register Publisher Lori Nauman and I attended a special conference last week near Otsego, north of the Twin Cities.

Dubbed an Editors and Publishers Leadership Conference, it was put on by the Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation.

Blandin has been doing community leadership seminars for 20 years. Many people who are considered leaders in their communities, have benefitted from attending these conferences – and so have their hometowns.

The Blandin Foundation was started by Charles Blandin, a newspaper publisher in St. Paul. He had purchased a paper mill in Grand Rapids in order to keep a supply of newsprint coming in to his paper. He also started the Blandin Foundation. After the sale of the mill, the foundation was gifted millions of dollars, and started looking for ways to spend it which would benefit Minnesotans.

They decided one way was to train leaders in Minnesota cities and towns.

Five years ago they decided to also have leadership training classes for newspaper executives.

The three day training was intensive, to say the least. It also did not have much to do with being a leader at a newspaper, as much as it promoted the newspaper as a leader in the community.

Let me explain.

There were three basic topics to this conference. First, there are eight areas which make for a healthy community – and by a healthy community, I don’t mean one where everyone is not sick.

Second, it is important for a healthy community to have good leadership. The third point was that newspapers can be one of these leaders in their community.

There were some interesting angles to this premise. For instance, I have always felt the editor and publisher at a newspaper should be involved in leadership positions in the community. For the most part, I always have been.

However, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking of the newspaper – as a whole – being a leader in the community.

My thought has usually followed the long held belief the newspaper is a combination of mirror to the community and historian.

We show – and tell – the community what is happening now, this week. In doing so, we are also recording this information for future reference as a sort of unofficial town historian.

At this conference, however, the seminar leaders promoted using these two facets as part of community leadership. They espoused the idea the newspaper help mold the direction the community takes – not only showing what it looks like now, but what it should look like in the future.

Although this conference is over, there are still two follow-up mini-sessions later this year. We were given homework, and in the next six months you may see some of this homework as it shows up in the pages of the Register.

Earlier in this piece, I mentioned there are eight areas which denote whether a community is healthy or not. Just in case you are curious, here are the eight dimensions of a healthy community:

1. Life-long learning. 2. Economic Opportunity. 3. Infrastructure and Services. 4. Environmental Stewardship. 5. Community Leadership. 6. Safety and Security. 7. Spiritual, Cultural and Recreational Opportunities. 8. Valuing Diversity.

Of course, there are longer explanations of what each of these phrases actually mean. We will try and give more depth to them in future columns.

You will note that No. 5 is Community Leadership. At the Blandin Conference, it was the No. 1 topic, stressed over and over. A healthy community needs strong – and competent – leadership.

Here in Faribault County, the community leadership arena suffered a blow last week when the fairly new director of a recently organized private county-wide development group suddenly died.

David Piggott seemed to be a welcome spark to local community economic development. He shook things a bit, and was just getting the ball rolling in several ways, when his untimely death, at age 48, brought it to a halt.

Our heartfelt condolences to his family, and friends.

The leaders of Go Minnesota are not letting his loss bring their efforts to a halt, however, and say they will quickly look for a new director for their organization.

That’s good, because a healthy community needs leadership – especially in economic development.

After all, leadership and economic development are two of the eight dimensions to focus on.