October 20, 2011 3:29:00 PM
Scott Colom - [email protected]
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.