Challenge accepted? Making a community we all want to live in

When Wally Kandel was honored Monday as the Gabe Zide Citizen of the Year by the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, he had a message that should reach well beyond those who were in attendance. Every Mid-Ohio Valley resident should take it to heart.

Kandel is senior vice president and Marietta site manager for Solvay Specialty Polymers and a founding director of Shale Crescent USA. His work has given him the chance to discuss with companies all over the world the enormous potential for expansion — and putting down North American roots — right here in our own backyard.

But the rest of us bear some responsibility in making sure Kandel’s optimism is justified.

“This is a challenge to you …” he said, “Most of the companies who build here will be foreign … they’re looking for a place to establish headquarters. Our school (buildings) are old and embarrassing, our YMCA is closing, it doesn’t really sound like a place to invest in.

“We need to create a positive vision for young people, to make it a place you’d want to invest in,” Kandel said.

Marietta and the rest of the Mid-Ohio Valley has a responsibility to upcoming generations to be the best version of what we know we can be. We have a responsibility to prioritize forward-thinking, to be creative and think outside the status quo — to be not just the kind of community in which new residents want to build their lives, but in which our young people want to stay and raise their own families.

It will take a community-wide determination to move in that direction — to do the work, to make the sacrifices, to take the risks … to step outside our comfort zone. But we have no choice.

In discussing the dearth of young people joining our region’s many wonderful service organizations, Kandel made a point that applies to us all:

“I’m looking for a way to bring young people into this (community) service, and if we’re not preparing the next generation, that’s our fault, not theirs.”

If we aren’t ready for new employers, they will look elsewhere. If we aren’t creating a community where our young people want to build their lives, they will go elsewhere. We cannot afford not to accept Kandel’s challenge.