Last September Forbes contributor, Laura Bloom, - in an article featuring the 7 best places in the U.S. you can afford to be an entrepreneur wrote “Emporia is a charming, walkable and bikeable town with 14 buildings on the National Register of Historic places and the home to Emporia State University. And with a population of only 25,000 people, you won’t feel like a number. Emporia is a great place to be part of a community that has an active main street, restaurants and a bustling performing arts and entertainment scene. “You will fall in love with the architecture of Emporia – and who knows, you may even be inspired to start up your own downtown business. The cost of living is very affordable and access to high speed internet is readily available.
Only a matter of months before the Forbes piece - Emporia was chosen by USA Today, readers choice, as the Best Main Street in the USA. A panel of main street and downtown revitalization experts nominated Emporia citing beautiful architecture, a sense of history, locally owned business and community-centric spaces as elements that make Emporia’s Commercial Street so inviting and so quintessentially American.
More recently Emporia received attention of the wrong kind when, in a snarky satirical article published in December, the Onion named our town as the “best small town in America to escape from? OUCH The Onion article unfortunately received more attention than it deserved when Michael Smith, in a syndicated opinion piece referring to a “tale of two Emporias” called attention to challenges we face in Emporia, including poverty, health care disparities, poor housing and racism.
I will choose to focus on the positive, Dr. Smith, and point out Emporia is meeting our challenges head on just as we have historically!! Average wages are on the rise and unemployment is falling. Housing stock in Emporia is improving, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Government, non-government and faith-based organizations are combining to provide improving support and services for those in need. A small sampling of these entities includes – United Way and it’s many agencies, Emporia Community Foundation, Abundant Harvest, Kansas Children’s Service League, Flint Hill’s Community Health Center, Crosswinds, Shiloh House and many, many more. Emporia is blessed to have literally scores of organizations pursuing various missions to build our economic vitality, to improve our quality of life and create an even more appealing community to live, work and raise a family. Groups like our Parent Teacher Organizations, various neighborhood associations and Hispanics of Today and Tomorrow have a legacy of leadership in our town that is the envy of other communities. Emporia State University and Flint Hills Technical College faculty, staff and students participate in many of these community endeavors and in addition have unique campus activities focused on growing and achieving a greater good.
When we reference “a tale of two Emporia’s”, I observe we have challenges just as all cities and towns do, and we will not ignore those challenges. As we have historically, we will always recognize opportunities for improvement. Emporia is an extraordinarily generous community. Emporia is doing well and has a bright future. Each of us has an opportunity to engage in supporting our town and working to make it better. Let’s focus on the positive and have another super year in 2018.