Sustainable community initiative

Madison area business leaders
develop strategies for future growth

Groups targets education,
riverfront and historic preservation

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

(January 2007) – Madison area chamber and business leaders are steadily working to guide future economic development and have formed committee to study what they consider to be the most immediate needs of the region.
The group met Oct. 5 at the Venture Out Business Center to discuss ideas and hear from consultant Gwen Hallsmith who had been hired to lead the daylong forum. The event, sponsored by Duke Energy, was a continuation of a similar forum on regional growth held in September 2005.
“Our goal is to get leaders to think proactively to anticipate the future, not to just react to it, as is the traditional way in which communities work,” said Hall. She heads Global Community Initiatives, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping communities become more sustainable. She attempted to help community leaders focus on the challenges the future presents and set up strategies for achieving a sustainable community in the future.
She said her organization helps communities assess their assets and build on them with do-able, practical and concrete plans. “We help expose people to new ideas, and we get them to think outside of the box,” she said.
In Madison’s case, the group was asked to gather together to create a vision for the community for the year 2050 – to make it a “sustainable community.”
The 28 participants formed four groups to work on key development areas: education, riverfront, promoting the city’s recent National Historic Landmark District designation and expanding the region’s industry and business.
Hallsmith said one challenge in a sustainable community initiative is to create a sense of teamwork and shared community goals for people with diverse interests and objectives. “Our job is to get people in a community to work together for a common goal.”
John Miller, chairperson of the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce’s Task Force on Sustainable Communities, said many communities in the country are dying. The sustainable community movement helps smaller communities survive by building around the local assets. He said the movement is environmental friendly and involves the entire community.
Miller said the participants in the recent workshop were community leaders from a broad mix of areas. “Each of the working groups pulled together and by the end of the cycle had created concrete plans for their targeted development areas.”
Galen Bremmer, the Madison chamber’s executive vice president, said communication was the most positive aspect of the forum. “People were amazed at what all the other organizations in Madison were currently doing.”
Bremmer said it is always a challenge to overcome turf barriers in a small community where resources are limited. “Competition among the various organizations and businesses is stiff, so working together for the future is a major shift in thinking for many people.”
He says some of those barriers were bridged as people melded together to create solid workable plans.
• Education. This committee has set lofty goals, which include developing a world-class education system that will graduate 100 percent of high school seniors. They are hopeful that the current expansion of Ivy Tech Community College will prove to be a positive and critical step in the right direction for the area’s future.
• Riverfront. This committee identified several areas of concern, including the development of a well-planned marina and a possible port for business. Miller said the community needs to leverage its assets in the waterfront and enhance both recreational and business transportation. One concrete goal is to build a gas station for boats because the nearest one is many miles away.
A critical issue for the waterfront, however, is the location of the future Ohio River Bridge. The location is expected to have a major impact on the economy of the area. “Building the bridge just a short distance away from where it is currently located could really cause havoc on the economic development of the area,” said Miller.
• Historic preservation. This committee wants to develop ways to capitalize on Madison’s recent designation by the National Park Service. They want to focus on the expertise in the area instead of on actual historical development.
“We need to leverage the expertise that has been acquired and attract other people to our area by possibly offering high quality training for historical restoration and preservation. A possible school for heritage crafts, restoration and preservation technology and techniques was suggested as one idea to attract industry professionals.
Another suggestion that came from the forum was to use the second and third stories of the downtown retail buildings to attract highly skilled and well-educated professionals. “With the national trend moving towards a creative economy instead of a manufacturing economy, Madison is poised with its high quality of life to attract those professionals who can work anywhere as long as there is high-speed Internet access,” Hallsmith said.
She noted that by 1999, the number of people in the creative industry had exceeded the manufacturing population and actually taken over as a core driver of the economy.
Miller said the forum’s committees plan to continue meeting to keep the sustainable community initiative alive. “Keeping the momentum going and actually doing something will be the continued challenge,” said Bremmer.

Back to January 2007 Articles.



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