Michael Caldwell: Unity, uniqueness aren’t mutually exclusive

Published 8:49 am Thursday, January 16, 2014

Every community in southwest Michigan seems to stand pretty strong on its own, but it is exciting to think about what could be accomplished by locking arms and standing united as one region.

As an outsider to the area, one of the things that has been very striking to me while visiting the communities that Leader Publications serves — these include Niles, Buchanan, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg, Cassopolis and several others — is that each one is very unique, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Each one operates mostly independent of one another. Most have their own chambers of commerce, schools, government agencies, economic development entities, historical groups and so on.

The townships work with their respective cities a bit more but this fragmentation still seems to be the overall reality of the region.

First and foremost, independence is tremendous and a testament to the hard work by all the men and women involved. Each community is unique and should operate as such, but the old saying that “there is strength in numbers” holds true in almost every case in life.

What could be accomplished if more groups began working more closely together? Partnerships and cooperation by various entities within a community is certainly important, and is already underway in many cases. There is also progress with cooperation between organizations such as the Niles and Buchanan chambers of commerce.

Still, these efforts are really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what could be accomplished.

What if law enforcement from all the southwest Michigan communities and their neighbors got together a few times year to talk about challenges and ways to collaborate?

What if every chamber of commerce spent some time together focusing on hosting programs and initiatives that would help virtually any business regardless of whether it is located in Dowagiac, Edwardsburg, Niles or somewhere else?

What if government entities looked at pooling their buying power when it comes to expenditures like insurance and supplies?

Would it be possible for the public schools to find more positive initiatives that would engage youth and help them get involved in their respective communities?

Could the various colleges and universities look for more ways to achieve their overall goal that is essentially the same: To provide the education needed for individuals to succeed in life?

Some of these types of initiatives may already be occurring in varying degrees, but the overall idea is that we can always do more cooperatively than we can by standing as individuals.

One of my favorite quotes is from author and statesman Benjamin Franklin, who said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Although that may be hyperbole when it comes to southwest Michigan, the founding father’s message still holds true hundreds of years later.


Michael Caldwell is the publisher of Leader Publications LLC. He can be reached at (269) 687-7700 or by email at mike.caldwell@leaderpub.com.