[Our apologies for being such slackers during the month of January. Clearly, we were exhausted after so much holiday awesomenesss...]
This week, 18 counties from our region descended upon Jefferson City for the annual Great Northwest Day at the Capitol. In case you don’t know about GNW Day, it’s a cooperative effort designed to unify and enhance our region’s image in Jefferson City and to pursue issues and legislation beneficial to the “Great Northwest.” With a delegation of over 300 northwest Missouri constituents, GNW Day includes introductions to the House & Senate, educational forums, and an evening buffet with State legislators, department heads and elected officials.
GNW Day is one of those things where we ask ourselves from time to time, ‘But – what do we really get out of this?’ It’s not an easy question, because the answer is somewhat intangible, but here’s what I think: I love Atchison County, but I’m also wildly proud to be a Northwest Missouri native. We’ve got good stuff going on up here, and we’re often doing those things together. Leadership Northwest Missouri, Roundtable of Economic Developers…these types of groups do not exist in all corners of our country, let alone all corners of our state. They are rare and wonderful examples of true regionalism. And how awesome that once a year, we get to put that excellent regionalism on display in front of legislators from across Missouri.
While part of the purpose of GNW Day is to convey our support to our local legislators and to communicate the issues that are most important to our region as a whole, the other purpose is to strut our stuff at a big ‘expo’ at a hotel ballroom. I often describe this event as a cross between your senior prom (Mardi Gras, THS, 1996!) and a trade show complete with county/city booths. With live blues music, PowerPoint presentations, jambalaya, giveaways, and some carnival-like games thrown in here and there, it’s a truly bizarre and fun event.
Booths typically try to do several things: educate, entertain, and brag a little. Last year, Atchison County highlighted the construction in 2010 (new grocery store, hospital, grain elevator), but this year was difficult. In such a festive atmosphere, how could we discuss the disaster that was the Flood of 2011 and respectfully convey its impact on our county to legislators from St. Louis, Taney County, Hannibal and everywhere in between? How could we educate State Legislators (who likely can’t have much of an impact on any Federal ‘fixes’ many are looking for anyway) on our tragedy and still portray our pride in the fact that we are proactively repairing and fixing and moving forward every chance we get?
After numerous, sometimes hilarious suggestions, we zeroed in on our theme: “Atchison County: Still Afloat!” The handout? A travel pack of wet wipes with a note declaring that the Flood of 2011 didn’t wipe us out. The game? A bag toss game, complete with mini-sand bags to help us plug the hole in the levy – get all three in the hole and win a pack of life savers! Decorations? What better to use than what you have laying around – leftover sandbags, a ginormous inflatable raft, and life jackets. Cute, but how can we convey the damage? Two big pictures (an aerial shot of the flood at its peak and a close-up view of the damage to Highway 136 after the water had receded) and several quick flood facts.
What we get out of this event a dose of community pride and the opportunity to demonstrate who we are, where we’ve been, and what’s going on in Atchison County to people from across the state. This year, our booth was visible from across the room – every one of the several hundred people who walked into that ballroom saw our raft and understood in an instant that we made it. Those who made it over to our booth learned from our photos and facts that 2011 was sickeningly tragic and had the opportunity to learn more from our citizens in attendance. And, they learned that Atchison County is home to resilient, proactive people who can always find a way to laugh.