Sunday blog: Wellington needs to change its narrative

by James Jordan, Sumner Newscow — They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. For years, I have heard doom and gloom about Wellington, and as the saying goes, nothing much has changed. The complaints have not changed much either.

James Jordan

If you want change to happen you have to do something different. You can talk about the good old days all you want, but they are not coming back, and they may not have really been all that good. You can also gripe and moan about problems, but that has never solved anything either.

Wellington is not unique in its struggles. There are a lot of small towns in rural America with the same issues – health care, housing, employment – and they are usually the big issues. Wellington is not the most vibrant small rural town I have seen, but it is also far from the worst.

The city is working on a strategic plan and is seeking public input. One of the goals of the plan is to “change the narrative” about the city. You can access the survey and get more on the strategic plan here.

The narrative is currently that Wellington is a dying small town. There is some truth to that idea, and it is true for a lot of small towns in rural America. There are some exceptions however, and those exceptions happen because of the narrative changes.

At a recent city meeting a study by Wichita State was presented. What it said was pretty clear, and not surprising.  There is not enough quality affordable housing in town to attract industry which could make the town grow, or at least stop the downward trend overall. Developers or builders are not attracted to the town when the suburbs of Wichita are growing and more profitable.

It is a downward spiral, and now there is a study to prove it. The question is now what do we do about it. I think changing the narrative would be a good start.

The city is in a bad spot in some ways. It is “too close” to Wichita. Businesses, and developers, would rather go there and to the suburbs than to Wellington. It is hard to compete with that. Yet Wellington also has some positives. Being close to Wichita is also a positive, and could be a way to get people to move here. It is close enough to the Interstate to make that also a plus.

But what if we did change the narrative.

I have traveled a lot in rural America. Texas to Tennessee, and Montana to the gulf coast. I avoid Interstates as much as possible and go through a lot of small towns. You can tell a lot about a town pretty quickly. It is easy to see if there is any community pride – and if there the town might be worth a stop.

Sometimes the first appearance isn’t accurate but very often it is.

I can give one real example of a town that changed its narrative. They even changed their name from Jonesboro to Jonesborough.

This is a small town in Tennessee near where I grew up. The big four-lane highway passed about a quarter of a mile away and Jonesboro was forgotten. It was the county seat, but the bigger town a few miles away was on the freeway and kept growing.

When I was a teenager it was a place I ignored just like everyone else did.

But somewhere along the line someone decided to change the narrative. The town had an interesting history and several houses built before 1800. It was the first town west of the Appalachian Mountains. It was the capital of the state of Franklin, a short-lived attempt at seceding from North Carolina and starting a new state. The rebellion lasted only a few months, but it is still an interesting history. Davey Crocket was born nearby, and President Andrew Jackson was born there.

It is on a hillside and has a very picturesque main street with a very old courthouse. Merchants all decorate for each season in a coordinated effort.

In the 70s and even 80s it was a dying town and did not have a hotel or even a real restaurant. Today, you have to reserve a bed and breakfast room months in advance and it will cost you at least $200 per night. There are several really good restaurants now, along with antique shops and a lot more.

Jonesboro had a lot of obstacles, but it changed the narrative and became the historic town of Jonesborough. It wasn’t that they just changed how they talked about the town. The way they talked about it did change their actions and that made the difference.

What do you think could happen if the narrative changed in Wellington?

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