Collaboration is built on respectful relationships with others. That was the crux of several panelists’ comments Wednesday during the Franklin County Summit at the Franklin County Office Annex. The annual gathering, which is organized on behalf of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners and the county’s administrator, focused this year on the theme “Together We Succeed.” It echoed the  mission of a 17-county Southeast Kansas economic improvement initiative.

At the heart of Project 17’s activity is learning about commonalties and differences among those within the region, which should help add appreciation and support for those with the same plights. While many of the counties in the region face the same challenges on how to access health care, others have far different obstacles than those in this part of the region, Midge Ransom, Franklin County Health Department director, said during the panel discussion. Trying to address both local problems and regional ones simultaneously makes it more difficult, Ransom said, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.

“We are bordered to the south with other counties that aren’t as fortunate as we are,” State Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, said during the discussion.

Though regionalization isn’t yet in the vocabulary of many people at the state level, it is a route participants believe will pay dividends in many ways. When poverty rates are lowered, then educational rates rise and a lot of other risk factors, such as drug use, go down too, Neosho County Community College President Brian Inbody told those gathered at the summit.

Inbody cited the increased enrollment at Ottawa’s campus, which comprises half of NCCC’s entire enrollment, as being a benefit to the taxpayers in Neosho County, a neighboring Project 17 member, that invested in and paid for the Ottawa campus.

“We don’t tell the story very well — we need to get this story out,” Dennis George, a former hospital executive in Coffey County and current Ottawa school board member, said.

 — Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher