Community identity can be a funny thing

August 17, 2018

Can I See Some ID Please?

Community Identity can be a funny thing. Think of some of your favorite cities and then what is the first thing that comes to mind when you do? Let’s try…. Lubbock. Most of you immediately thought of Texas Tech, cows or dust, right? How about Corpus Christi? Easy, the beach. Arlington? Six Flags! Jerry World! Texas Rangers! If you say the word Dallas, anywhere in the world, someone will immediately associate that with the Cowboys or J.R. Ewing.

Let’s do a few more…. Roswell: Aliens. Las Vegas: Gambling. Orlando: Disney. St. Louis: The Arch. Some cities have been very intentional in marketing a specific identity or brand for themselves, while some just happen. Some cities ended up with one they’d probably rather trade in. (Detroit, amiright?) Just a few years ago, if anyone mentioned Waco, the first thing to come to mind was David Koresh. But if you mention Waco, Texas now, from coast to coast, people squeal with joy: Magnolia! Chip & JoJo!  Was that part of a master rebranding campaign by the community of Waco? I don’t believe so. Are they capitalizing on it and doing intentional things to maintain this new identity? You better believe it.

What does this have to do with Abilene? Everything.  We’ve been asking folks around town, and from coast to coast, for several months now, what they think of when they think of Abilene. A few weeks ago, we met with a large number of community stakeholders for our annual planning retreat. And I asked them too, what Abilene’s identity was. Local folks said Storybook Capital, Dyess, the Zoo. We heard the “F” word over and over. Friendly. So friendly. Friendliest folks in the world.

Folks outside of Texas said: Cattle. Hot. Cowboys. Country music. Kansas. A number of people said they don’t think of Abilene at all. That one hurt a little.

I think we can all agree that Abilene is the friendliest city on planet Earth, and while that is a GREAT reputation to have, it’s not going to be the brand. I did hear an answer during that meeting though that has been tumbling around in my brain and won’t stop. Because it makes a TON of sense. Someone said, “We’re makers. You can make it in Abilene.” If you’ll indulge me for a moment, here’s what’s been rapid-firing in my brain since I heard that:

Makers. Who are the makers? What are they making? Is this something we all really have in common? Couldn’t we all really use something to UNIFY us right now? (the answer is a BIG YES) Okay, makers…. Bogie’s makes those yummy sandwiches(food first, I know). The ARTS in Abilene! So many Makers. Hmmm…. lots of folks making good music here, too. And boats, oooh Tige. Manufacturers: BIG makers. SoDA District. The Mill. Tim Smith. Amendment 21. Makers. They are everywhere, at every level of this community, on every single street.

That’s actually how Abilene started. Since 1881, Abilenians have been making this the place to be. Building homes, businesses, families, and everything else they needed, Abilene has looked out in every direction and declared, “We need (fill in the blank). We will make it ourselves.”

What does that mean to us today? How does that unify us? It means that now, instead of telling 125,000 different Abilene stories (and we do love a good story!), we can effectively tell ONE story, 125,000 different ways. The Cultural Affairs Council and the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) can keep making storybooks come alive all over downtown. Ted Evans can just keep on making the best tool bags that GE can find for their linemen. Rentech can keep making the biggest boilers in the world and AbiMar can keep making the best cookies and crackers this side of the Mississippi. The Development Corporation of Abilene and the Abilene Industrial Foundation can keep on recruiting more makers. Abilene Christian University can continue to promote its Maker Lab (that’s the name!). Wind farms can keep making energy and artists can keep making art. Our doctors can keep making folks well. Our farmers can keep making sure we all stay fed and Allison at Monks can keep making that coffee that makes us all more productive. Our car dealers can keep making deals and our contractors can keep making homes that house families of makers. Still not convinced? Our local non-profits can keep on making life in Abilene a little better for every single client with a need. Our teachers can keep making things make sense! First responders make us all feel safer. Your barber can keep making you gorgeous and every airman stationed at Dyess Air Force Base can keep on making Abilene proud. All by doing what you are ALL ALREADY DOING.  It was right in our hands all along. Making it in Abilene is not just something we do- it’s really who we are. And THAT is what identities are built on.

So that’s what’s been swirling around inside of me. Does it speak to you? Discuss. With your friends, your family and your co-workers. Disagree? I’ll recover. BUT, if it resonates with you even a little, let’s start dreaming about ways to celebrate and honor our Abilene makers, and attract new ones!

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