Revisiting the heyday of department stores and five-and-dimes

Bring the food, and 'the future' will follow [Commentary]

Anything important happens over food. That's one thing I've learned from my editor Allan Vought, who is highly likely to attend any gathering if there is free food anywhere in the vicinity.

I realized it again after the first annual ConnectHarford event on Nov. 1.

ConnectHarford was a mass brainstorming session that the Dresher Foundation hoped would bring leaders from the worlds of business, government and education together to talk about the future of Harford County.

It was billed as an intense exercise in planning, but I think the real goal could have just been to let people talk over breakfast or lunch. "Small talk" is actually pretty big.

There were almost 400 people there, which is an impressive number in and of itself. We were sitting at round tables spread out across the floor of the APG Federal Credit Union Arena, the kind you might see at a wedding or, well, a large lunch.

It was a highly organized and professionally-led event. The leader or "coach," Gretchen Pisano of Sounding Board Ink, did a great job.

There were rotating breakout sessions designed to build on each other and point toward a discussion of how Harford can "become a destination for knowledge workers by 2025," according to the agenda.

Obviously, the people at the meeting were more likely than the average person to have highly thoughtful answers about life in Harford County and what they want to see.

One person seemed a little embarrassed to consider the possibility that some people move to the county because the houses are cheaper.

Realistically, though, (I thought to myself) most people move to a place precisely because they can afford the housing, they think it has good schools, it's close to their job and, perhaps, it seems like a safe and "nice" place to live.

I'm willing to bet most people don't move somewhere because of parks or nightlife or because they've thought about the totality of what "Harford County" means.

At one point in the morning, everyone watched a film about the 162-year-old Corning company (only slightly older than The Aegis!) and how it has transformed itself to be on the forefront of modern technology.

I went up to the balcony level and looked at all the people down below, many of whom I knew. They were focused on watching a movie about a company selling high technology but, I thought, the real focus was on them.

A place isn't really about its technology or amenities or even its "brand." It's about its people.

What "makes" Harford County, just like what makes or breaks every other place, is the people.

At the end of the day, all the formal conversations people have before and after lunch are less important than the small talk they make over food.

As long as people from different walks of life are willing to come together over lunch and just talk to each other, I think the county will be fine.

The real challenge is getting people from those different walks to come together in the first place.

As Allan Vought might suggest: Just bring the food. And the future will take care of itself.

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