Q&A - August 5, 2016

We have an insidious problem in this country. The specter of small town decline is spreading as rural communities everywhere are struggling. Concerned citizens watch helplessly as their populations are declining, businesses failing, downtowns are being abandoned, and hometown pride is slowly fading. These citizens fear for the continued viability of their beloved hometowns but don’t know what to do. They need help but don’t know where to turn or who to trust.

Sometimes the best thing that can be done for a small town in this situation is to bring in an outside consultant, an expert with a fresh perspective. It is strange, but a new set of eyes can oftentimes help us see the obvious things that our eyes cannot or will not see. The solutions might be right in front of us, but sometimes it takes an outsider to help us see them clearly. It takes someone who can help us assess our available resources and focus on what we have rather than on what we lack. It takes someone with firsthand experience in bringing back a community from the brink of economic disaster—someone who knows how to engage local volunteers and overcome detractors.

Q: What has happened to Ron Drake? Is he still around?

For two years, OSUIT maintained the services of Ron Drake as a downtown consultant. He came to us with an impressive resume of helping his own hometown of Siloam Springs, Arkansas, to reclaim its downtown area and was personally responsible for the renovation of 15 historic buildings there.

Ron conducted several focus groups with OSUIT students to pinpoint their needs and wants related to downtown living. He then helped us incorporate student requests into our concept for downtown student housing and was instrumental in helping OSUIT identify the ideal buildings to suit our purposes in downtown Okmulgee. Ron also played a major role in helping OSUIT convey our unique vision to the design team of architects, engineers, and builders who have fully developed the working plans for the renovation of the Old Post Office Complex.

Ron’s biggest contribution during his two-year contract, however, may have been in providing inspiration for local downtown enthusiasts and teaching us how to pull together. Ron brought the lessons he learned in Siloam Springs and taught many in our town how to accomplish a historic restoration. Okmulgee is well on its way to recovery thanks to the encouragement and confidence that Ron Drake instilled in us. The solutions existed within our community the whole time, but Ron was able to open our eyes to them.

While we will still be able to utilize Ron’s talents on an as-needed basis, he has now officially moved on to help other client communities across the country. You can read more about his national consulting work and follow his successful projects at his new website www.rondrakeconsulting.com. I, for one, am very grateful for the two years we had Ron Drake in Okmulgee but hope he can now provide similar inspiration to other communities in need.

Thanks for the thoughtful inquiry this week. Please keep sending them to osuit-president@okstate.edu.