Friday, October 12, 2012

Seeing Is Believing

By Ranada Robinson, Senior Research Associate.

Two weeks ago, my colleague, Kathy Young, and I traveled to Decatur, Alabama to attend their annual Diversity Awards Banquet and to catch up with our good friends at the Chamber of Commerce in person. In its tenth year, this banquet recognizes the achievements of minority business enterprises and the programs developed by corporations that support minority business development. From recognizing the longevity of Mary Burke Florist, which has been in the community for 66 years, to celebrating the efforts of Daikin America Inc. (which include awarding minority scholarships annually and hosting students and teachers each year for two weeks in Japan), to a motivational keynote address by a dynamic woman who heads the Johns Hopkins Diversity Leadership Council, Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, the banquet was extremely inspiring. This year, the banquet was held in conjunction with the community’s second Diversity Summit. The day-long event featured presentations such as “Thinking Outside the Box, Job Search Strategies for Veterans,” “Six Essential Elements to Ensure Entrepreneurship Business Success,” and “Cultural Competence in the Workplace.” The banquet had over 250 attendees of all backgrounds, and the summit had 200 attendees.

Decatur has cemented its standing as a best-practice community in recent years. Many successes stem from the community’s transformational One Vision – One Voice – One Morgan County strategic planning process, which Market Street was invited to facilitate in 2009. The Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and its partners have truly spoken with “one voice” and have collectively made great progress in taking the process from planning to implementation success.

During the research phase of the One Vision – One Voice – One Morgan County process, we identified six key issues that the community needed to address:
  • Increasing Decatur – Morgan County’s level of economic diversification 
  • Embracing increasing diversity and welcoming new residents
  • Providing quality public education 
  • Retaining and attracting the community’s best and brightest
  • Lifting confidence in local government and leadership
  • Leveraging the community’s existing healthcare assets and ensuring quality services to residents
After completing our quantitative and qualitative research, we worked with the community to connect the dots between the identified issues and challenges and actionable steps and solutions. Just a few examples of strategic actions in the Community Action Plan are:
  • Optimizing the local business retention and expansion program
  • Promoting the development and approval of one or more TIF districts
  • Creating a dialogue on multi-cultural challenges and conducting annual educational workshops for employers
  • Leveraging opportunities to collaborate, innovate, and modernize K-12 education, including by expanding the reach and depth of career exploration and awareness programs
  • Increasing the quality of and access to early childhood and Pre-K education
  • Increasing the capacity of the Community Free Clinic of Decatur-Morgan County to serve economically disadvantaged residents
Since the 2009 process, Decatur-Morgan County has celebrated many wins. In addition to the well-attended Diversity Summit and Diversity Awards Banquet, implementation successes include:
  • All of Decatur City public elementary schools have instituted the Leader in Me program.
  • Attractive housing for young professionals is currently being developed.
  • The Summer Welding and Electrical Technology (SWeEty) camp has been so successful in providing high school girls hands-on exposure to technical skills that next year, the program will expand to two sessions.
  • The Calhoun/Athens State Fine Arts Center opened in Downtown Decatur last month, one of many additions to the community’s downtown, including a newly announced Mellow Mushroom restaurant.
  • Decatur’s first Early Childhood Education Summit, an effort of the community’s Workforce Development Coalition, was held last year.
  • Public entities and private schools joined together to create a Pre-K brochure that guides parents.
  • The Keeping Our Best and Brightest Committee attended five university career fairs last year to speak with students about the opportunities in Decatur-Morgan County.
Rather than languishing into obsolescence like many shopping centers around the nation, the community’s mall is being renovated and will open a state-of-the-art movie theater.

Decatur-Morgan County created a clear, actionable, and measurable vision and works every day to achieve that vision. It is amazing to witness, and this community just shows that with effective strategic planning, dreams can come true!  

SWeEty Participant