October Changemaker: Cindy Frey

October Changemaker: Cindy Frey

Cindy Frey, President, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce  //

What is your advice for the next generation of city change makers?

The biggest piece of advice I can offer to the next generation of city change makers is to get involved! Community leaders are eager to form relationships with next generation leaders, to share the community’s history, to mentor, and to provide guidance. On the other hand, community leaders need to be open-minded about the approach young leaders take.  Here, we have a history of a strong, nine-month community leadership training program. It’s a great program, but I sense we need to update our model.  Next generation leaders might prefer to hold a hackathon to solve a problem in a weekend. They may see a solution that involves new technology. We need to move over and make room for new ways of tackling issues.

What inspires you?

I am inspired when I see people working together to move the community forward. This happened earlier this month, when Columbus, Indiana hosted a national conversation on community design excellence.  It was an example of how our small community (population 45,000), aspires to be the very best. Since the 1950’s, Columbus, through the financial support and leadership of the Cummins Foundation, has been a place where America’s best architects left their mark. It is home to seven National Historic Landmarks designed by the likes of Eero Saarinen, Harry Weese, and I.M. Pei.  Exhibit Columbus attracted nearly 900 architects, designers, students and community members to study our design past and imagine a new future.

In your opinion, what are the top three issues facing Columbus, Indiana today?

The biggest issues facing Columbus, Indiana are workforce development, talent attraction and opiate addiction.

The Community Education Coalition is a cross-sector effort to ensure that a seamless education system is aligned with our employers’ needs. This 20-year effort is bearing fruit with more students attending quality pre-kindergarten programs, graduation rates on the rise and educators working alongside employers to create relevant education and training programs. With successful high-tech, advanced manufacturing operations employing nearly a third of our workforce and driving our economy, it is challenging to meet the demand for skilled labor. Unemployment hovers around 3.5%.  However, I believe we will have an edge over other communities that have been slower to respond to industry’s changing workforce needs and demographics.

Right now, since our local residents are still skilling up, we are in a position of needing to import workers with the skills our businesses require.  Fortunately, Columbus leaders have been working on that issue since the 1950s.  This distinct community has a great story to tell job candidates. We are a diverse, welcoming community with great job opportunities, many amenities and a strong sense of place. Attracting and retaining young workers is a particular challenge for a Midwestern city of our size.

Finally, we are tackling the growing opiate and other drug addictions. Again, we have a cross-sector team working together to tackle this tough issue. The team includes city and county law enforcement, judicial system, healthcare workers, mental health experts and the social services working together on data-driven strategies. This issue, too, is tied to our need for a productive workforce and vibrant community in which everyone can thrive.

What are one or two projects on which you are currently working that you are most excited?

In addition to providing support and education to our 600 member businesses, we are focused on making our city more innovative and entrepreneurial. We launched a new coworking space last year. It provides low-cost space and a workplace community for freelancers, start-ups and remote workers.  Now our facility is truly a one-stop center for business development and support.  Entrepreneurs find services and mentorship through the Indiana Small Business Development Center, SCORE and our staff – all in one convenient, central location in the heart of our downtown.

Also, we’re supporting the Columbus Young Professionals (CYP), a volunteer-led group of millennials, in order to help address the talent retention issue. CYP is led by smart, young volunteers who are committed to giving back to the community and developing their careers. Their energy and optimism inspire me.

What should we know about your work that you have not mentioned because we didn’t ask the right question?

The one thing that I wish people to know is that just because we don’t have the population of a major city does not mean we don’t want to contribute like one. I think our relatively small size is an advantage. We joined CEOs for Cities to learn from the biggest and best. When we discover fresh ideas, we are able to scale those ideas quickly.

I think the other clusters could learn from our city as well.  Visitors to our community are envious of our built environment such as the modern architecture, public art, and recreational facilities. They soon learn that the beauty of Columbus is more than skin-deep.  There is a strong commitment to creating a safer, healthier, smarter and more inclusive community.

Could you tell us something about yourself that most of your colleagues don’t know about you?

Earlier in my career I worked for the Indiana Film Commission. Essentially, our team was both chief marketer for Indiana and the state’s film production troubleshooter. Some of the films that I was a part of include classics such as Hoosiers, Eight Men Out, A League of Their Own and Rudy. I am grateful for my time with this job because I was able to cultivate a statewide network and a set of skills that I still use today.

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