Progress -- for some that's a dirty word. For others, it's a necessary part of the natural evolution of people, towns, states, and the country.
Progress is about change. Carefully managed, it can be a positive thing. Left to expand on its own, progress can become uncontrolled expansion that brings what many towns don't need. Low- paying jobs, an industry that cares nothing for the town and often leaves behind an environmental mess, a drain on governmental financial services and an often crippling legacy -- that's the saga of many a small community over the last couple of decades.
What once were boomtowns become wastelands with a poisoned environment. Some areas weather it better than others.
For a time, all was well. Jobs were plentiful, population was booming, money was flowing.
But in virtually every state, some small town has had to come to grips with closings -- from manufacturing and retail to the service sector.
Towns have found ways of coping. For some, it was literally "lights out" for awhile. In one small town, a sign on the outskirts of the community read a variation of just that -- "Last one leaving turn the lights out."
What became one town's devastating news became another's economic salvation.
As one struggled to develop a plan to confront the negative impact on the community, another community was greeting its newcomer with open arms.
Long before the relatively recent phenomenon of professional sports franchise swapping among metro cities, smaller towns were combating the economic realities of losing, and in turn, working to lure business and industry.
Many towns coped by developing a recruiting effort. For some it was an independent group of volunteers who began working with city and state officials to build a "war chest" of money available to lure more community-friendly initiatives.
This strategy worked and the businesses and industries that left, sometimes under a cloud of mistrust, were replaced with smaller firms, with more concrete ties to the community where they put down roots.
Contributions to civic and recreational endeavors, employees committed to their new communities, and an ownership willing and determined to give back moved in to replace those that had departed.
Corporate America continues to change -- sometimes for the better, sometimes not.
And during the process, communities have worked hard to survive.
Even the smallest have at times been able to cope.
Partnerships formed to preserve historic movie theaters, cultural attractions, recreational opportunities, and civic institutions.
Such collaborations make us all better, enriching our experience.
The progress and transition of our economy to more of a global outreach, involving even some of the smallest firms that now sell their products and services overseas, continues.
Even as we continue into this decade, that globalization of local communities and the businesses and industries that exist there, continues.
And the inevitability of change impacts us all.
Only we determine whether that progress is for the better.
Fortunately, we have local foundations, city, county, state and chamber leaders and volunteers that have sacrificed their time and effort to keep us moving forward and tackle the challenges that every community must face in these economic times.
Floyd Jernigan is the publisher of The Fort Scott Tribune.