Regionalism in our communities is something that seems to be this "new-fangled idea."

When you visit our small towns, you find fierce rivalries between all types of mascots based on the schools that are present in each individual community, where residents adopt this undeniable loyalty and persona that completely defines their lives.

There are families that are second- and third-generation alumni, which makes the saying "it runs in their blood" a literal application to one's upbringing, personality and outlook on life. Everyone in Las Animas knows what Trojan Blue means, and every Cardinal in McClave has a certain opinion of the acceptable shade of red.

School rivalries are a driving force in the competitive nature of our small towns, which creates school and community pride and ultimately ripples outward into different areas across counties and communities. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, at some point, we all need to realize that no matter what emblem you wear on your letter jacket, and no matter who you're cheering for on Friday night, we all live in Bent County ... in Southeast Colorado ... in Rural America - TOGETHER.

There are issues that plague our communities that will not be solved by a few individuals. There are laws and legislative policies that will not be changed by one person asking a question. There are possibilities and opportunities out there that will not be obtained by just a few people making the request. There are a number of reasons that our rural communities can, and should, work side-by-side to promote our own well-being.

Can you imagine the possibilities if we all just stopped looking at imaginary lines and boundaries as if they are massive moats filled with alligators and fire-breathing dragons and, instead, start looking at them as tables at which to sit and extend a collaborative hand to our neighbors? This applies to the imaginary lines that everyone draws between school districts, local organizations, counties, states and even between rural and urban America.

Have you ever wondered if someone out there in the universe is thinking the exact same thing at the exact same time as you?

Have you ever thought of a great invention and, lo and behold, a little while later someone has your idea sitting on a shelf in a store?

Have you ever talked about something and then all of a sudden everyone seems to be talking about that same something?

There are a lot of people and organizations within our communities working on projects, and if they would look around, they would probably be able to find other organizations that are also working on the same project, have already done it or have done something similar to it.

This is not a lost opportunity and it’s not always a competition to see if you can do it better than them. It’s an opportunity to learn from neighbors, to partner with neighbors, to collaborate on the project and to gain the experience (and the voice) that might make the difference between failure and success.

We have unlimited opportunity to look to our neighbors and collaborate on projects that will benefit our entire corner of the state.

We also live very busy lives and time is precious, so doesn’t it make sense to utilize the resources that are available to us in an effective and efficient way?

Going back to my school reference that started this whole train of thought (let’s think high school basketball): You cannot win the state championship with one person on your team. Even if that one person is a rock star, they can’t cover five opponents all by themselves and, eventually, they will become tired and burnt out.

The most successful sports teams are the ones that have a symbiotic group of like-minded individuals who all have different strengths. When put on the same court, their strengths become stronger. They move with one another, they assist one another, they protect one another and they feed off of each other’s victories and successes, which builds momentum for the whole team and eventually ends with a “W.”

In the realm of economic development, I am a very small fish in a very big pond. If I don’t look to my peers across county lines, I will be lost. If I’m lost in my efforts to do the best that I can for Bent County, then the whole county loses out. And if that happens, there will also be ripple effects into our neighboring counties.

Each county in Southeast Colorado has specific strengths that complement each other, and we must find ways to capitalize on those strengths to come together as a force to be reckoned with.

There are economic and small business professionals - as well as experts in housing, lending, public health, tourism, history, project management, leadership and marketing - that I have had the pleasure to get to know and speak with regularly. Their expertise is invaluable to me, and I take every opportunity that I can to ask them questions and allow them to mentor me.

I’m willing to check my ego at the door to work across organizational, city and county lines in order to gain the knowledge and experience from my fellow colleagues for the betterment of Bent County and Southeast Colorado as a whole.

Are you willing to do the same?