An expert in community engagement spoke to Mitchell community members, telling them now is the time to act to improve the city's attributes for the future.

The Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, Mitchell Area Development Corporation and Mitchell Main Street and Beyond sponsored a visit from Ed Nichols, who hails from Decatur, Alabama, and is a strategic planner for the Enspire Consulting firm. About 50 community members gathered at the Freighthouse Room of The Depot Bar and Grill on Monday afternoon to hear from Nichols, who worked for more than 30 years in public education before moving into consulting.

"I think you have such a great opportunity here," Nichols said, speaking about how he is impressed by the elements that make up Mitchell's downtown and impressed by the people he's met.

Nichols - whose talk was titled "Renew, Recharge and Reinvigorate Your Community" - told the audience to challenge themselves to think about the legacy they want to leave in the community for their children. He said the seeds for what can happen 20 years from now start today.

"We plant seeds today that we never see the trees," Nichols said. "It's for young people, it's for the next generation of citizens."

Nichols challenged residents of Mitchell to "change their lens" of how they viewed the city, asking them to drive to the edge of town and look at the city as if they'd never been to Mitchell before.

"Really readjust your focus of what you see," Nichols said. "If you were 25 years old, what would draw you here? What would make you stop (in Mitchell)?"

Speaking about improvements, Nichols talked about how time and pressure created success for the downtown area in Greenville, South Carolina, for example. He said that was created over 30 years of one singular vision, ideas born from what people in the community wanted to see.

"You have change in so many leadership positions and leaders in the community, it's hard to think about having a single vision for that long," he said. "But when the next people know the vision and know what the community wants to accomplish, that vision can happen."

He said that will require some creative thinking, given that a high percentage of children today, he said, could be working in jobs and industries that have yet to be created. He used the proliferation of computers and cell phones as examples of industries that have grown in the last 20 years.

He said leaders in Mitchell and other communities should not be afraid to ask young people what they want to see in their towns.

"The mission and vision you create is for them," Nichols said.

Mark Vaux, the executive director of the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce and Mitchell Area Development Corporation, said the timing of the event was good, because he wants community members to think about both big and small ideas that can make the city better. Mitchell is also in the midst of a community visioning and planning process to set goals for the coming decade.

"The residents have a great chance to make this a better community than it already is," Vaux said. "The foundation has been laid but we can't be satisfied, we can't be complacent. We want to go to the next level."

Nichols, who said he's also planning on doing some consulting in Aberdeen later this spring, said he looks forward to coming back to Mitchell during hunting season. He said his wife and father-in-law are hunters, and joked that his wife is the best shot in the family.

"The pheasants might die of a heart attack if they see me carrying a gun," Nichols joked.