October 20, 2011 3:29:00 PM
Several months ago I was hanging out at Fuhgetaboutit, a downtown bar, and struck up a conversation with a gentleman who had recently moved to Columbus. I'm intrigued with what newcomers think and feel about Columbus, so I asked the man about his experiences here. He said he was generally pleased but felt like the city could have done a better job welcoming him and his family. He felt the city had established cliques and networks and this made it difficult for newcomers to feel a part of the city.
Then, last week, during a conversation with friends, this topic came up again. Christina Brown, director of marketing at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, was telling us about recruits she was trying to attract to the hospital. Christina told us one of the recruit's husband graduated from Mississippi State and had asked her could the family live in Starkville if his wife took the job. Baptist, however, requires doctors to live in Lowndes County, so we were discussing ways to attract the couple to Columbus despite this.
Christina, a Columbus import herself, said one major concern recruits have about moving to a new city, as should be expected, is how well they can integrate into a city. Another friend and native of the Golden Triangle, Brock Reynolds, said he could understand why newcomers could find it difficult to transition into Columbus life.
Brock pointed out that Columbus doesn't have a thriving nightlife, even in comparison to Starkville, and this decreases the chances for social interaction between strangers. Like most small towns, Brock said Columbus had many folks who had lived here most of their lives and had relationships and friendships that went back decades. Consequently, these folks were less inclined to feel the need to make new friends, which could leave new arrivals left out.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized this difficulty is amplified for adult arrivals. Unlike college or high school, where there is daily interaction and a collection of strangers with incentives to meet others and make friends, an adult moving to a new town has a limited social foundation. Besides co-workers (and who wants to only hang out with their co-workers), these adults must make friends and find a social life without the benefit of a social network. They must join churches with pre-existing congregations and join social clubs or civic groups with pre-existing friends and establishments.
Apparently, the Columbus LINK has recognized this dynamic and is taking steps to counteract it. In May, the LINK hosted an orientation and tour of the city for newcomers. This Thursday, the LINK is hosting a NewComers welcome at the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau from 5:30-7 p.m., with the program to start at 6:15 p.m.
Naturally, the LINK can't solve this problem alone. Several large industrial businesses have decided to call Lowndes county home recently and this will inevitably result in newcomers to Columbus. We should all be mindful of the difficulty of moving to a new city and make Columbus as welcoming and friendly as possible. This means we should help people get involved in civic organizations, make sure they know about the city's social calendar, and avoid the insularity that can be common in small towns. Above all, we should remember our reputation as the "The Friendly City" and extend that friendliness to the newest among us.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.
jls commented at 10/21/2011 8:02:00 AM:
Very good column, Scott! As a transplant myself, I can relate to those who have difficulty "fitting in" here in Columbus. It would seem that, unless you grew up here or went to the "W", you will never be totally accepted by the locals. I would imagine that most small towns are the same way, Starkville being an exception because of Mississippi State. I am glad to see that the LINK recognizes this problem and is trying to do something; certainly, your article will raise awareness among the populace. Thanks!
thom geiger commented at 10/23/2011 9:46:00 AM:
Interesting idea Mr. Colom, but why doesn't this idea apply to people who come here to fill top local positions such as school superintendent or police chief? Like so many nicey-feely, group hug ideas, it only applies when it's convenient. It's convenient when one is talking about a regular person who comes here to work and pay taxes, as long as they aren't coming here to fill a business or government position we prefer a local getting.
Does this apply to preachers and reverends, new to their churches and congregations, a new mail carrier, a new factory worker, a new doctor at the hospital? This idea would be laudable if it weren't applied in a hypocritical way.
Columbus and Lowdes County have had, as long as I can remember, traditions that work against the idea in your column. The local tradition of putting outsiders at the end of the line for top jobs and positions and the tradition of forcing bright, energetic, hard working, motivated young people to have to "wait their turn" for those same top positions we won't allow outsiders to come here for, these are the main ones.
Why is that our community can't welcome newcomers who come here to fill a top spot in our local government like we can one who comes here as a plumber, carpenter or plant worker? Can you tell me? How you think the difference in how people are welcomed here, or not, affects our community as a whole?
walter commented at 11/2/2011 7:27:00 PM:
I have been anxiously waiting to read more of your articles, Scott. Not seeing anything recently and hoping that all is still well with you, I thought I would submit a response to the current aricle, although a bit late.
Columbus does not have much of night-life, compated to Starkville because Columbus older residents decided some years back that they wanted Columbus to be a retirement community. Nitghlife and retirement community, to some, are not compatible. Thus, Starkville and surrounding cities thrive, while Columbus seems to stagnate.
Young people must began to express themselves more. You have good leadership in the mayor's office and you have several progrssive members on the City Council. Young people must began to agitate for their own futures, as far as Columbus is concerned and the type of social environment that they desire and need.
One man's opinion...
colomsw commented at 11/3/2011 9:22:00 AM:
Thanks for the message. I was beginning to wonder why you stop commenting on the columns. I have something in the paper this week as well on how to change culture. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks to everyone else for the support.
walter commented at 11/5/2011 8:28:00 PM:
I am recovering from a torn rotator cup suffered a couple of months ago! having suffered toothaches and other ailments, I was convinced that there could be nothing more painful or longlasting. I was wrong. Unable to sleep and in constant pain, I was prescribed eighteen pain pills a day to deal with the injury. The effect of the pain and the medication altered my sleep pattern and dimished my appetite. To make a long story short: I was in another world for a brief period. Fortunately, although I continued to read your articles, doing my suffering, today, I can also comment.
You do us proud, Scott. Whether I or anyone else ever comment, continue to write. You write extremely well and your insight and courage to express it, is just what Columbus and Mississippi need. In addition to the preceding, you write in a way that inspires togetherness, across all kinds of racial, class and other lines.
There are some elderly folks in Columbus, Lowndes County and the state, who have some very interesting stories to be told. I would hope that you, or someone almost as gifted as you, would speak with them and record their stories before they depart. Especially those people who managed to hold on to their properties (land), as well as those who put up the good fight, but didn't, because there was for them, no justice to be had from the courts, their own lawyers and definitely not from the lawyers on the other side.
Thank God, today we have honest and very, very competent Chancellors. In Lowdnes, we have one who is extremely competent. Not only is she competent, she is fearless and fair, too!
1. Our View: Gun violence in unexpected places DISPATCH EDITORIALS
2. Froma Harrop: Racing through nature NATIONAL COLUMNS
3. Our View: The value of play DISPATCH EDITORIALS
4. Possumhaw: Imagine a world of butterflies LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Dana Milbank: A general's farewell NATIONAL COLUMNS