The second question listed on the online survey offered by Wheeling's ad-hoc Retention and Recruitment Committee was this: "Outside of improving the availability of jobs and affordable housing, what could Wheeling do to improve the retention and recruitment of talent/citizens?"
And right there on the second page of the report there is a "Word Cloud," a collection of the primary terms used by participants when offering their suggestions and advice, and they want OPPORTUNITIES, a better DOWNTOWN, improved CULTURAL activities, more EDUCATION TECHNOLOGY, and they want Wheeling to be CLEAN.
More than 600 people, committee co-chair Derrick McKee explained, completed the survey, and the 23-page report offers a plethora of Word Clouds produced by lifelong residents (23.32 percent), by those who moved away and have stayed away (20.33 percent), by people who lived and were raised here but have since moved away (22.31 percent), by those who were raised elsewhere but now live here, (16.69 percent), by non-residents who feel emotionally invested in the Friendly City (11.74), and by those who have moved away but wish for a reason to return (5.62 percent).
Those folks care most about the cost of living in Wheeling, and then the quality of the schools, proximity to family and friends, and they also wish for a forward-thinking population.
The survey's fifth question inquired about what folks thought to be the best parts of the city, and the Word Cloud revealed "FAMILY" was No. 1, and PARKS and RECREATION, the "HISTORY" of the city, the SMALL-TOWN feel, and the sense of "COMMUNIY" were the better assets.
What do they like the least?
And 5.17 percent said the "THINKING," and that means nearly 95 percent of the participants have recognized the mindset change that's taken place here during the past couple of decades.
Question No. 8 was whether a participant would or would not consider moving away from the city of Wheeling, and "FAMILY" WAS at the top of the list, of course, and "JOB," and "OPPORTUNITY" followed, but when the seventh question asked if a current resident ever considered moving away, just over 55 percent admitted they had.
Three positive terms to describe today's Wheeling?
"INEXPENSIVE, TRYING, FAMILY."
And, "FRIENDLY, POTENTIAL, BEAUTIFUL, SAFE, and WELCOMING."
And three negative words to describe the city?
"PARKING, DIPALIDATED, DRUGS."
And, "BORING, STAGNANT, LACKING, LIMITED, and DIRTY."
The committee members also wanted to solicit ideas from those participants who have traveled away from Wheeling and experienced something in another city they believe could very well work in the Friendly City, and the No. 1 answer, "SHOPS."
Job growth, better parking, even more riverfront events, improvements to public transportation, and an improved nightlife were included, as were recycling, a clean look and feel, and improved pride.
I found the report to be a great example of local residents brainstorming and developing solid ideas, and I expect many of the recommendations to be useful as we all move forward into a different future for a change. Of course, the two most difficult issues are housing and employment opportunities. There is no denying that.
But if we pretty-up, update ordinances, forget the past but build on our history, and recognize our own pros and cons, all those hope-for requests above would have a far better chance to become reality.
(Photo by Steve Novotney)