as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Wednesday, January 6, 2016
By TOM HENRY
Someone once told me “The only time you should ever look back, is to see how far you’ve come.” While I don’t agree with the quote technically, after all I am a historian and I’m all about learning the lessons of the past, in principle it is 100-percent correct. That is especially important for a collective people, community, city or even nation to live by.
Overall, the year 2015 was a pretty darn good year to me…perhaps my happiest. But I am quite sure that 2016 will be even better! I pray that I learn the lessons from all the mistakes (yes I make mistakes) that I made last year. I pray that I don’t repeat them or have to go through additional new challenges in order to learn what I should have learned the first time. But as a talented young 18-year old author told me this week – those things that we go through make us what we are. Can the same be said of our city? Do the challenges and experiences that Blytheville goes through make us the city that we are to become?
Economically, for Blytheville and Mississippi County the beginning of the year was quite rough. There were hundreds of lay offs in the pipe producing industry as well as a couple fires that hurt our workforce. But, it can still be said that “hope springs eternal” in Blytheville, as evidenced by the considerable economic development seen in 2015 in the steel industry (Big River Steel and the Nucor self tempering expansion), expansions by Five-star hydraulic and Southworth as well as the growth locally for retailers Love’s Truck Stop, IHOP, Little Caesar’s, Shoe Carnival, Cititrends, Dirt Cheap, Bayird Chrysler, Tractor Supply and Carter’s Corner.
Crime gripped Blytheville very hard in 2015 with eight homicides (up 400 percent from last year), rampant robberies every day and an extensive expansion in the drug trade locally. However, by the end of the year we see that all eight homicides have ended in arrests and 574 law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and local agencies worked in collaboration to affect the arrest of 70 violent criminals during Operation Blynd Justice on August 11. The end result, hopefully, will be that the criminal underworld now knows that “if you do the crime you’ll do the time.” At the very least, they need to know that it will not be accepted or tolerated as “just the way things are in Blytheville.” Additionally, Blytheville residents now know that there are people outside of our city that will come help us– they have our backs!
City finances in Blytheville have been very tight and in 2015 they got even tighter. There has been a lot of fighting among residents and city leaders regarding how to fix the problems. The sales tax campaign this year, unfortunately, exhibited some very bad behavior and produced some very sour grapes. But, the wonderful thing is that it did help inform the residents of Blytheville of certain fiscal realities. It has us talking about the difference between what we need and what we want. It has a few people proposing solutions for find additional revenue and the reduction of expenditures. The first step in fixing any problem is to admit that we have a problem. Step One — accomplished.
Construction in Blytheville has changed the very landscape of the community to some degree. The opening of the overpass and the repurposing of Ash Street (and plans to eventually make Walnut Street two-way) have all changed traffic patterns and has given us all a different perspective on our community. Reader, the first time you crossed over the railroad tracks by way of the new overpass, did you not say something akin to “Wow! I’ve never seen that building before” or “things sure look different from this angle?”
It is my hope that in 2016, we begin to look at our entire city and even our personal lives from a new angle. Sometimes retail and restaurant managers are transferred from one store to another, in a purposeful attempt to keep them from becoming too permanent in one location, because “a fresh new set of eyes” see things from a different perspective and do not believe the lies that things cannot improve. The same should be said of us, let’s look at Blytheville and Mississippi County through a different perspective in 2016 and renew our hopes that things can get better.
I sincerely believe our future is bright! I believe I hear the Lord telling Blytheville as a city, the same thing he told his prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:11) so very many years ago, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” So let it be written, so let it be done!