From the Tallahassee Democrat
“People wish to be settled; but only as far as they are unsettled, is there any hope for them.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I start a lot of my presentations with that Emerson quote and at no time did it seem more appropriate than when I spoke to an amazing group of business leaders at the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference in August. How impressive that so many community and business leaders care enough to gather.
Tallahassee is clearly feeling unsettled. Like Emerson, I think that’s a good thing.
Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, knows a few things about public perceptions and why things happen. His answer to “why cities thrive” is in three parts: 1) they retain those local companies that receive revenue from outside the area; 2) They help and grow start-ups 3) They have a vibrant downtown
Oh, and a city gets bonus points for having a local college or university … Tallahassee has three!
Tallahassee is poised to break out as a city. The crossroads facing key leaders and voters is as common as it is vital.
The first step is to diagnose the situation. The Chamber’s promotion of a community scorecard is a fantastic tool. What I heard at the conference was sobering, but unsurprising – Tallahassee’s job growth has lagged and, thus, poverty and crime have been a chronic problem.
But there is hope and plenty of it. One reason is that the second part of the foundation of building a great community is quality of life, and this is an area where Tallahassee checks so many boxes. Your investment in infrastructure and the environment is incredibly impressive.
Finally, we get to vibrancy – best measured by the growth in the tax base (on which local government revenue is generated). In my town of Pensacola, the tax base in the downtown urban core has risen from $663 million to more than $1 billion.
So, with a foundation built and a target in play, how do cities move forward?
First, know the basic categories in which citizens fall:
The All-ins: these are the people you call when you need something done.
The Usually ins: might help, but need more facts/reasons.
The Usually not ins: Always able to find something wrong or be skeptical.
The Against: they don’t like it before they even know what it is.
A sense of urgency is key to getting the Usually Ins to join the All-ins and overwhelm the Againsts.
Now, here are some more key points:
Talent is so vital. I like to say: Capital follows talent and talent follows place. You’ve got the “place” down, which is a great start. And as an aside, a big part of that place is the National Mag Lab which is such a jewel for your market. That should be the cog that drives your economic engine.
Next – keep driving your downtown to new heights. How do you program events downtown? How can you reimagine your space? And don’t forget to play “small ball.” As Teddy Roosevelt said, “do what you can with what you have, where you are.”
This is important – invest in early childhood education. Dr. Dana Suskind, an early childhood education expert who wrote “Thirty Million Words” tells us that 80-85% of a child’s brain is developed in the first three years. Leon County voters’ approval of the Children’s Services Council is a wonderful investment in this key area of your community’s growth.
Finally, continue to promote civic engagement – not for people to yell at each other, but for people to learn. Talk about the “why” behind proposals. Collect best practices. Bring people together. It can work.