ABILENE -"Opening Doors to New Opportunities!" was the theme of the 24th Annual Texas Midwest Conference held on October 25 at the Abilene Convention Center. The event was attended by officials and students from Runnels County including those from Ballinger, Winters and Miles.

ABILENE -"Opening Doors to New Opportunities!" was the theme of the 24th Annual Texas Midwest Conference held on October 25 at the Abilene Convention Center. The event was attended by officials and students from Runnels County including those from Ballinger, Winters and Miles.

Timely solution seminars provided city leaders, economic development professionals, chamber representatives and students with information to better prepare for challenges member communities face today and in the future.

'The most valuable aspect of the conference is the networking among the organization’s fifty-member community representatives as they share successes as well as insights to challenges they have overcome," said Executive Director Kathy Keane following the event.

The conference kicked-off with an inspiring presentation by Diane Bayes, San Angelo CVB Vice President. Bayes is a fifth generation Texan with a great love for the Lone Star State and over 20-years in the travel and tourism industry. A little over a year ago Bayes and her husband decided to pack their stuff and start traveling the backroads in their fifth wheel with their two dogs, her Nikon cameras, and enough rice and beans to get them through as they shared their adventures through her blog "Eccentric Nomads."

Her presentation included her stories about the uniqueness of rural communities, what made them stop and take a second look, and how communities can appreciate their own community by looking through visitor goggles.

The luncheon included the recognition of Rick Rhodes, recently retired Administrator for Office of Rural Affairs with the Texas Department of Agriculture and the first president of TMCN, as the Rural Advocate of the Year; the communities of Anson and Miles as Communities of Achievement; and, the community of Strawn as this year’s All-Star Community.

Also during the event, Kevin Tutt and Mike Daggs of Tutt & Daggs recognized the 2017 Leadership TMCN community projects developed by member community high school students and their business mentors. The Network awarded the student groups of the top three projects with scholarships: 1st Place Breckenridge, 2nd Place Dublin, and 3rd Place Early. Last year, Ballinger students were in the winners circle.

The Communities of Achievement award was developed as a way to encourage cities of all sizes in the region to be better prepared for future growth and economic development programs.” Criteria to qualify for the award include vision, pride, youth involvement, endorsement from business community, connectivity and assessment. The award provides a 3-year designation period.

Through the local efforts of the Miles Economic Development Corporation President Cherry Kasberg an application for the award was submitted in August which detailed Miles’ community-wide plan (vision), beautification efforts (pride), student participation on local projects (youth involvement), support from local businesses (endorsement from business community) and website (connectivity). When applications are received by the TMCN office, individuals from neighboring communities in the region are invited to visit the city to conduct a windshield tour of what a visitor sees and experiences when they come to town (assessment). Information from the windshield tour is provided to local leaders.

The Community Achievement Award was presented during conference luncheon ceremonies. The Community of Achievement is a 3-year designation and qualifies the community to apply for the competitive All-Star Community Award, which provides $2,500 cash to be used for a local project.

In addition, a delegation of students from Winters ISD attended the event. The group was sponsored by the Winters Chamber of Commerce.

"It was a great experience for the students," said Mandie England a counselor at Winters ISD. "Be watching for some great community projects from this group."

TMCN member cities include Abilene, Albany, Anson, Aspermont, Baird, Ballinger, Brady, Breckenridge, Bronte, Brownwood, Buffalo Gap, Cisco, Clyde, Coleman, Colorado City, Comanche, Cross Plains, De Leon, Dublin, Early, Eastland, Eden, Goldthwaite, Gorman, Hamilton, Hamlin, Haskell, Hico, Jacksboro, Jayton, Knox City, Menard, Merkel, Miles, Munday, Ranger, Rising Star, Robert Lee, Roscoe, Rotan, San Saba, Santa Anna, Seymour, Snyder, Stamford, Sweetwater, Throckmorton, Tye, and Winters.

Texas Midwest Community Network is the only regional organization of its kind in the state and the Annual Conference is the only one-day event in the region providing access to numerous agencies, organizations and businesses that provide resources and services to rural communities. Attendance at the conference was open to all member community leaders and set a record attendance this year of over 310. For more information about TMCN visit www.tmcn.org or on Facebook at TexasMidwest.