People passionate about our community, but with different interests, have been coming together to discuss and act with the goal of making an ambitious vision a reality. A reality that could change us from a community focused on surviving to one focused on thriving.

Listening to the various discussions in the past primary election season, there seemed to be much focus on what to do if we continue to lose population or lose tax base.

However, led by the Economic Progress Alliance of Crawford County (EPACC), there is a group of business and community volunteers focused on growth.

Furthermore, they are confident that it is realistic because of a recent visit to two other communities that have accomplished similar feats. And talked to those who were instrumental in making it happen.

Consider Loveland, Ohio.

The website www.lovelandcanoe.com proclaims Loveland as “the Sweetheart of Ohio.” It further explains that “Historic downtown Loveland offers great restaurants, specialty shops, art gallery, community theater and more! All nestled in a quaint little district alongside the Little Miami Bike Trail and the Little Miami River. Bring your family, friends, or co-workers on a ‘Day-cation’ to Loveland, the Sweetheart of Ohio.”

A group of people from Meadville recently visited Loveland to see how it could be a model for the French Creek Heritage Corridor project that the Tribune reported following Roger Willis’ address at last summer’s Greater Meadville Area Day Dinner.

Having personally learned more about this project since and even mentioned it in a previous column on this page, I frequently get skeptical looks when I talk to others about what a significant project this can be. I am still a relative newcomer to Meadville and apparently don’t understand realities. I sometimes wonder if some in Meadville have a corporate inferiority complex.

“Loveland is very similar to Meadville,” Jim Becker, executive director of the EPACC, told me after his visit. “It was a real eye-opener. It showed us that our ideas are very realistic. In fact, the people we talked to said we have thought of things in advance of when they did. Loveland has become a destination. We were there on a Wednesday night, and it was packed. Cyclists are overwhelming the parking lots — a great problem to have.”

Joining Becker on the visit were EPACC staff members Angela Annibale and Sarah Fait, along with Willis, a key volunteer in the project.

The group also visited an area that one writer described as “the Nation’s Most Dangerous Neighborhood.” It’s a section of Cincinnati known from its earliest days of German immigrants as “Over-the-Rhine,” a reference to the Miami and Erie Canal as “Rhine of Ohio." In 2012, the Urban Land Institute called Over-the-Rhine is "the best development in the country right now.”

Notice the role of a stream of water in each place? Water nurtures the growth of economic development. French Creek: A Community Treasure.

In recent months, Becker, Annibale, Fait, Willis and others have formed several committees to solicit community engagement in the planning of the French Creek Heritage Corridor project. The committees are Environmental/Trails and Waterways, Downtown, Community, Historical, Land Use/Transportation. Volunteers on these committees have met several times to explore such questions as:

How do we make our community more attractive to recruit and retain employees?

How do we keep some of our young people from leaving?

How do we attract visitors who will spend money? How do we build even more on our many recreational advantages? (Willis, an avid cyclist, describes our area as “mecca for cyclists.” How do we promote that and make cycling here even better?)

Where could we have new attractive housing?

And, others.

If you would like to be involved, email Fait (sfait@epacc.net) and explain which committee might appeal to you. You could be involved in another EPACC success like Conneaut Lake Park.

If you really want to get excited about the possibilities for Meadville, take a day trip to Loveland, Ohio — especially if you are a kayaker or cyclist.

Ross Feltz is a marketing and public relations consultant and co-owner of Decorating Den Interiors.

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