The Four-Legged Stool

There are so many great communities across our country; small, large, old, new, boom towns and quiet hamlets. I often wonder what sets communities apart. Why do some seem to flourish, while others seem to struggle? Of course, we all love the places that we call home. We Americans seem to always love our hometowns and speak with great pride about where we grew up or where we live. Surry County, North Carolina is no different. I have met people from all walks of life who call this region home. Whether they are from Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain, Dobson, Elkin or somewhere in between, they love this area of the state.

How is the success of a community measured?

This made me wonder even more on how communities are ranked. How are they measured? Is there a list somewhere of what a community may need in order to be a successful? Today it seems that every magazine, website, blog, newsletter book or newspaper has their own criteria and their list of the top finishers. As the staff leader of the Chamber of Commerce, I am often asked this question on how our community is doing. Where do we rank in the hundreds of communities across this state and the thousands across the nation? I found my answer in a seminar I attended years ago where the speaker told a story of a “three-legged stool”.

The expert said that every community must have three things to be successful (the experts disagree on what those three things are!). Those three things represent the three legs of a stool. If one of those things should not measure up, the one leg may collapse, then the stool collapses and the community with it. This made real sense to me and it made me think about my own community. Recently, I was working with a Chamber board member on a speech and we decided to use this very theme. The only difference was we needed an additional leg to develop what we called our “Four-Legged Stool”.

After many years in the Chamber world in six different communities, I saw some great (and not so great communities). Over time I developed my list of four areas (or legs) which include Education, Healthcare, Government and Business. We believed if our community had strong foundations in each of these four areas, we could count ourselves as having a solid, successful, viable community.

We believed if our community had strong foundations in each of these four areas, we could count ourselves as having a solid, successful, viable community.

Some will disagree that this list does not cover all aspects of a successful community (the stool could have 100+ legs!). I feel comfortable that these four are at least in the top 10. Let me provide a few words on each leg:


That our community would have strong public and private schools, in addition to higher education (community college or university). The strength and support of our education system will determine the future of our children (and adults). A community that values education is certain to succeed.


That our community would have access to a great hospital, doctors, dentists, pharmacies and other health care professionals to ensure that our residents are well taken care of. Access to adequate health care is important to everyone, young and old.


That our community would have government services and resources (local, state and federal) that work for the common good. In addition, we would have visionary leadership in government, that work well together and is responsive to the citizens.


That our community would have a strong economy and a vibrant business community. Those businesses would provide jobs, tax revenue and the goods and services that we all need. In most successful communities you will see a vibrant business community.

Where / how does Surry County stand?

So, where do we stand in Surry County, North Carolina?  What is the condition of our four-legged stool? Are we on solid ground or do we have some legs that are less stable than others?  Now I can give you my thoughts as someone who is a newcomer. I work on a regular basis with all four of these sectors of the community and from where I stand, I can say our four-legged stool is solid. Of course, perfection is hard to achieve. There is still much more work to do to maintain a great community. There is always room for improvement.

Written by: Randy Collins, Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce President & CEO
Published in The Mount Airy News Sunday, February 16, 2020