Do Hard Things. Be Accessible.

Do Hard Things. Be Accessible.

by William Murdock, Executive Director, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission & CEOs for Cities Columbus, Ohio Cluster Member //

CEOs for Cities. Indianapolis.  As an advocate of my favorite oft-compared Midwestern neighbor, Columbus and Central Ohio, this was my chance for inspiration with a side of learning how we were keeping up with the Joneses – and – with leaders and thinkers from across the country.  I was expecting to be challenged about how better to connect, to innovate, and to nourish our talent and our uniqueness. And #IndyCEO did not disappoint. My takeaways are simply put: Do hard things. Be accessible.

Do Hard Things.

This was most clearly voiced by Baltimore Corps’ Fagan Harris, whose work in connecting people to enterprise, community, and education is just getting started.  It’s changing low expectations with new ideas instead of shying from what can seem like overwhelming community problems. My favorite example in Indianapolis? How they re-imagined connections between places, people, and ideas in a downtown long reoriented to cars and not people. Mayor Ballard put it simply for us, “Why do we do things like build bike paths?” – understating the $60 million plus, 8 mile “Cultural Trail” ring of bike and pedestrian infrastructure connecting their entire downtown – “Because it creates a city that attracts talent.” CEOs for Cities is an experience-driven event – so many of us toured this community investment which turned a downtown’s transportation mix right side up.  This inspiring project required a huge lift to bring businesses, residents, and commuters along during six years of construction.  It now connects the major cultural amenities, housing, and natural features in a delightful, safe way enlightened with significant public art and memorials.  In less than a generation, a bold simple idea is now part of the fabric of the Indy experience – and is driving new business expansion downtown, spurring new mixed-use development along the trail, and attracting everyone from tourists and young professionals to long-time residents enjoying an evening or a healthier commute. In my work with urban redevelopment and regional councils, we see people demanding more options in transportation in places where it can be hard to imagine it happening.  Indianapolis’ Cultural Trail shows it’s possible.

Be Accessible.

Leaders need to connect circles, not stay in the middle of their own. CEOs for Cities’ President & CEO Lee Fisher says, “When we tear down the walls between the cities and suburbs and regions and build bridges to each other, and then light fires of targeted investment in the region’s core, the rising economic tide lifts all boats.” To do this well requires welcoming new voices to traditional tables and not hesitating to connect newcomers so they feel invested and like they’re making an impact. Like many others, our Columbus CEO Cluster turned out in force in Indianapolis and connected with leaders not typically at the same table. It wasn’t just a great conversation, it was fun. And it leads us to new ways to cultivate talent with innovative partnerships at home. Jamie Merisotis, author of America Needs Talent, put it directly, “Talent attraction has to go hand in hand with talent cultivation.” If you’re in the city, this means knowing and valuing your suburban and rural neighbors. If you’re in a board room, this means connecting with and finding new ways to nourish your up-and-coming talent. If you’re a young professional, it means finding ways to connect with each other and volunteering with folks of all ages and income levels to work on the needs of the community. Being accessible outside of your circle and open to new ideas is critical to getting buy-in when tackling big community goals. We also heard from Venture for America’s Andrew Yang about the need to re-imagine how we train and invest in entrepreneurs. Developing the talent dividend can start with something as simple as an internship. A chance to be challenged and contribute your own talent is the most powerful tool for recruiting and retaining talent. Leaders should be accessible to providing these opportunities.

The Columbus Region’s chance is next up right after Des Moines. We’re ready to welcome you and CEOs for Cities in 2016.  We’re a community that believes our best days lie ahead and one that eagerly awaits a chance for you to challenge us with your ideas and to connect you with a smart, open, and growing city you might want to call home.

Check out the 2015 Indianapolis National Meeting recap.

Register for the 2016 Columbus National Meeting.





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