A couple of weeks ago I was invited to the Ohio Economic Development Association’s annual summit in Columbus to present a little history and lessons learned from the downtown Kent revitalization project. I was happy to oblige.
Bricks and mortar will always beat a conference speaking invitation for generating a sense of accomplishment but it was nice to be asked, and since we learned as much as we could from other cities before heading down this path I felt an obligation to return the favor as best I could.
I was part of the opening session that was asked to talk specifically about the role of ODOT’s new economic development project funding program. As the recipient of $500,000 from ODOT’s new program it was easy to cheerlead on their behalf.
I never met a podium I didn’t like so although my mission was to reference ODOT’s new program, having a captive audience gave me a chance to brag about all the partners that stepped up in Kent to create a transformative project in our downtown.
It’s easy for me to get wordy when talking about downtown Kent but there are so many nuances to the Kent project that it’s impossible to pull one piece out without explaining how it fits with all the other pieces. That’s a testament to the genuine collaborative nature of the project, and each time I talk about it, the more I appreciate how unique and exceptionally important that collaborative spirit has proven to be.
There’s no particular genius in getting collaborations to work. It’s like any family, there are ups and downs, but at the end of the day people that care enough will hold the center together and overcome whatever the issue of the day is. That pretty much sums up the brilliant strategy that we deployed to get downtown Kent across the finish line.
Don’t get me wrong, the community had aspirations and plans in abundance but plans don’t execute themselves, people do — so I always tell people that the hundred or so people that cared too much to see this fail were the real difference makers. Maybe that sounds simplistic and cliche but I honestly can’t come up with any better explanation for how the downtown project happened against all odds.
Part of the reason I like that message is because every community has dedicated people that love their hometowns, so every community has a chance to reinvent itself if it can get creative and tap into their hometown network. I know that now but I wish I knew that when we started.
It turns out that caring for your community is the great equalizer and the moral of the Kent story may well be that if enough people care enough to get involved and collaborate, great things can happen.
For anyone that’s interested, here’s the talking points I used to give my speech at the Annual Summit.
OEDA Annual Summit
(To view the slides of my session click on “Aligning Transportation Investment Strategies to Support Business Growth” )
Delighted to be here to tell Kent’s story
A lot of exciting things happening in Kent, big things, little things, things that have dreamed about for decades, all of which hold great promise for Kent’s future
Hindsight you can make yourself look like a genius, but we know better.
We know how many times we teetered on the brink of failure
How many times deals nearly unraveled
How many times things didn’t go as planned
How many different people came thru with a Hail Mary Catch
We know a lot more now, and hopefully some of our lessons will help you
– Putting Kent’s Assets to Work
Kent is rich in the raw material of the new economy
KSU production line for new business ideas
University cities have been the nation’s Bright Spots in the Great Recession
Kent Was Not Going Down without a Fight
Project Pitch: Put Kent to Work for N.E.Ohio
The Talent: KSU, City, PARTA, Corporate Anchors
All the Right Pieces, Just need to be Re-assembled
– All About The Jobs
Retain Ametek, Grow Davey Tree, and Attract 400 – 600 new jobs
Economic Urgency = Political Courage
Wait it out or participate in our destiny
Frog in boiling water (jumps out), when slow cooked frog doesn’t realize until it’s too late
– Project Leveraged $100 Million in Public Private Investment
Once decision was made whether to stay home or go big, went big
Bolder the better
30 years of planning to become an overnight success
Not blindly but with strategic precision
First the dollars and cents
In our last mile
4 letter word – GAP in funding
– Final $3.8M with $800,000 Gap
See in a couple of slides, we weren’t shy about asking for money
Thought we had a good story to tell, and we told it to a lot of people
Part of the value of going big, is that there’s something in it for nearly everyone
Investment begets investment
Human Nature – people want to be part of winners
Ride the Wave – celebrating incremental success is important
Talk a lot about the Stars Aligned
Sometimes you need to push people into a new perspective to see alignment
With a shared vision things line up
Best examples of that partner alignment was Office of Jobs and Commerce
And ODOD coming thru with some funds that may have only represented under 1% of the total project funding but nothing was more important because it let us finish what we started.
– Kent Project Overview
Audacity to dream Big
Maybe we can’t be everything to everyone
Why not have something for everyone
Too Often in Project Planning, We settle for less
Took the position: Once in a lifetime Opportunity, Have to Get it Right
Hired the best people and Created the Blueprint for Transformation
City had it’s Bicentennial, KSU Centennial – Setting the table for Next 100 Years
Smart Urban Design
Did Our Homework, cold called, visited, learned from others
Got 80% planned out, we figured last 20% as we went along
– Multiple Funding Streams Slide
Strategy Principle: Everyone has to have skin in the game, enough skin, that they are out far enough on the limb with us that failure is not an option.
The only exit strategy is to finish.
Critical mass, tipping point for success.
In those circumstances, amazing how people find a way to get to YES.
– Kent Project Pictures September 2012
Nothing says success like Bricks and Mortar
Transportation Issues: Centerpiece, both in terms of Great Streets, pedestrian, biking, “Connectivity”
New Physical Connections to Create New Culture of Connectedness
Full Circle Back to Economic Engine
– Kent’s Lesson’s Learned
Build a Plan, Work the Plan: Always Be Opportunitistic
Mix and Match, EHarmony in Project Development
All Hands On Deck: Plans don’t execute themselves, people do
Good Plan shows the roles that have to be filled
Build a Bandwagon – competitive instinct to win
Load the Bandwagon with the best people you can find, get out of the way
Best Practices: Plagiarize and Customize
Invest in Your Strengths – well rounded can be over-rated, find your niche and optimize it, feed it, nurture it
Braided Funding Strategies – Be Creative, Resourceful