It seems there are as many ways to interpret this question as there are to answer it. The word "fully" calls for a measurement we would likely never agree upon. "Participate" requires we ask who is concerned — county residents or some larger group? And "sustainable." What does this word mean?
Let me begin with an opinion: A county, city or state is no more than a reflection of its population. This being the case, our county government must look first to the real rather than hypothetical, felt, as compared to imagined, needs of its citizens.
Our economy is the wealth we've created and the means by which we employ wealth (mental, physical and resource based) to generate more for ourselves and others. Our economy is only indirectly the concern and never the responsibility of government.
If Union County's primary duty is concern for the needs of the population, county government would do well to develop strategies that support our ability to produce and trade, all with a minimum of restrictions.
This is not to say that considerations of access and supply never benefit from oversight. But oversight and restriction often consume too much government attention, thereby too much of our economy. Add to this, there are larger, more interesting concerns.
The many fortunate circumstances that underlie a healthy economy cannot be ensured. They can be studied and, in some cases, understood. They must continually be re-evaluated as the physical world and societies change. Some call this examination "future proofing."
Future proofing attempts to look over the hills and around the corners of time and circumstance. Future proofing could be called an investigative consideration of the now-real and the future-possible. Future proofing considers that things do not stay the same, that changes may likely be to our benefit and occur for reasons known or suspected but, often, not known at all. Most important, in the face of uncertainty, future proofing is an affirmation of the human spirit's adaptability — our ability to encounter change and thrive.
By comparison, when the word "sustainable" is used, I hear the fearful voices of those who would tell me the resources we have now must be forever preserved to ensure a life similar to but probably less fun than the one we've created. How unimaginative. How very unhopeful.
What does future proofing suggest citizens of Union County will do between now and some unspecific future date? Much! So many things that can't be adequately described because for the most part, they've yet to be imagined and created.
Sustainability is an illusion, as nothing — literally nothing — is sustainable for more than some limited time. This earth is always changing, as are we, the individuals who spend a little time here.
By comparison, future proofing is a term that recognizes life's promise to always find a way forward. The landscape may change. The people who see and participate with it certainly will be different. What will not change is life, its relentless reach for the good, the true and the beautiful. However much things change, "things" will be good, and we will make them better. Life and we, her children, insist upon it.
Grand as this sounds, why can't Union County be part of all this? As stated above, it can, we can, and in so many ways we're already doing them.
But looking back at the original question — "What does Union County need to do to fully participate in a sustainable economy?" — this sounds more like word-salad than a way to help us, as a county, to face the inevitable, always exciting changes happening even as I write this.
But again, the question: What does Union County need to do…? Our county would do well to continue its support of law and order, transportation, public health and many other important things that don't readily come to mind. But we should continue to look for ways to encourage creativity, support novelty and promote courage in the face of inevitable change.
Other than these? Not very much at all, I think.