Central residents who spoke at a town hall meeting Tuesday morning said they want a community that encourages development and infrastructure while maintaining the “small town” quality of life.

The meetings are the first step in a process to develop a five-year strategic plan for economic development through the help of Louisiana Economic Development’s Louisiana Development Ready Communities Program.

“Louisiana Economic Development wanted to have as many communities as possible be as ready as possible for economic success,” said Richard Ward, director of marketing and member services with the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives.

Ward is serving on the resource team for the economic development planning effort. The team has the task of connecting ideas generated by Central to possible resources available.

As part of the planning process, two meetings were held Tuesday to gather public input on the kind of community that residents would like to see for Central in the future. On Tuesday morning, about 30 people, including city staff, Louisiana Economic Development staff and the program’s steering committee members gathered at the Central Middle School.

“This is the beginning. This is the ground floor,” Ward said.

Audience members were first asked to name the strengths they see in Central and then later vote on which two they found most important.

At the top of the list of strengths in the morning session was the large amount of undeveloped land available in Central so there is a “blank sheet” for the city.

Other top strengths included the quality of the schools and the passion and commitment residents have for their city.

Other suggestions of strength included the fact that Central is close to the airport; the country living that people appreciate; and that there are already a lot of entrepreneurs in the city who know how to start businesses. Next, audience members were asked to list Central’s weaknesses.

At the top of the list was the need for better infrastructure and that the city isn’t development friendly.

Other weaknesses listed included a lack of entertainment, such as movie theaters; residents’ resistance to change and apprehensiveness about growth; lack of health-care options; and that there is not a city center for Central.

Residents were also asked to get involved in a vision statement.

Suggestions included a need for a more united community, visionary leaders, a sustainable tax structure and controlled growth.

“We have to be willing to do things differently. If we don’t, then we’re not going to escape the status quo,” said John Green, a member of the quality of life committee for the project.