Harrisonburg: our little oasis

A contributed perspective by Stephan J. Hess, CFP

Editor’s Note: This is another installment of a monthly series of contributed pieces addressing financial matters.

You cannot keep something good quiet forever. I am sure most of you feel as I do in that Harrisonburg and the surrounding counties are great places to work, play, and live. Sure, we have our challenges, but when you line up the pros versus the cons, the scale clearly tilts under the weight of the pros. Financially this is great, but I don’t want that to be the focus of this article. Like a lot of people, I did not grow up here – and also like many others, I chose to stay. One of my favorite questions to ask people is how they ultimately ended up here? It turns out that there are many responses.

Harrisonburg thrives economically, so it is not surprising that the most common response has to do with work. We have poultry, farming, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, brewing, universities, transportation, distribution centers, defense and much more. Unlike many communities, we are not dependent on just a couple employers or industries. Hopefully, everyone appreciates just how economically diverse we are. It is one of the key reasons why we are often spared from the full force of most recessions and why we tend to recover much quicker. Most companies are doing extremely well, and they continue to expand and hire more people all the time. This not only provides excellent opportunities and financial security for people who live here, but it naturally attracts people from all over.

The next most common response comes from those who come here to go to school and decide to stay. This says a lot. Our higher education opportunities draw new people from all over Virginia and the country. We have beautiful campuses and well sought-after programs. The ability to attract and retain young people is vital to a healthy economy. There are many small towns across America where the young people are leaving, and with them goes the energy and future of that town. Home values eventually slip, and businesses slowly fail. Thankfully, that is not happening here. Many generous individuals and organizations have worked hard to make our community special. The revitalization of our downtown is a perfect example. Twenty years ago, people considered it a waste of time and money. Now it’s a dynamic and culturally vibrant urban city center where people want to be. There are many opportunities for younger people to work, live, and start small businesses here and we want that kind of energy. Unfortunately, with the coronavirus there has been a definite pause as of late, but no doubt things will resume as soon as they can. Former students who end up returning home after school often say how much they miss our town when asked. Again, that says a lot.

There are also people who come here to visit and then eventually relocate here. Some parents come to visit their children at school and find something here that they just don’t have at home. When they are ready to retire, they come, especially when their kids are nearby. Others come to enjoy activities like the Red Wing Roots music festival, or our many historical attractions. We have outstanding outdoor activities and natural wonders too. Massanutten, Skyline Drive, and our caverns draw many visitors. We have rivers, mountains, and trails everywhere to hunt, fish and hike. People also come here from all over the country to participate in one-of-a-kind running and cycling events. This is a lot to offer.

The last reason is my favorite because it is just purely serendipitous. It’s a rare response I’ll admit, but apparently some people will just randomly stop here while passing through. Maybe they are looking for a change of scenery, or maybe they are on an exciting new life adventure with no particular destination, but something causes them to pause here. For all I know they might have just wanted to stop at a Chick-fil-A. The point is that Harrisonburg was not their intended destination, but it seemed like a nice place to “hang out” for a bit. Some keep moving but others stay and make it their home.

Perspective is a funny thing and it is incredibly easy to forget what we have. If you find yourself focusing on what we “Don’t Have,” stop immediately. You are correct that we will never have ocean views, a redwood forest, or Venetian canals. That’s what vacations are for. It is hard sometimes to recognize and appreciate just how lucky we are but other people who come here have no problem seeing it. Financially it’s a big deal as well. Most quotes about happiness refer more to appreciating what you have as opposed to what you don’t. Maybe this is why there are a lot of happy people in Harrisonburg.

Stephan J. Hess, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER Professional and is the owner of Hess Financial in Harrisonburg. Neither he nor his company has any financial relationship with The Citizen or its publishers.

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