Cincinnati's annual young professional summit -- which since 2004 has aimed to engage young leaders in various civic initiatives in the region -- used this year's event as a springboard for Agenda 360.
An ambitious initiative fronted by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce which involves several organizations, Agenda 360 is touted as one of the region's most comprehensive plans aimed at transforming Cincinnati USA -- including Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties -- into a marquee region of the world during the next 12 years.
"People have an opportunity today to get engaged in an ongoing process," said Nique Swan, one of the participants. "It wasn't that way before."
Agenda 360's goals -- unashamedly copied from Northern Kentucky's Vision 2015, according to Myrtis Powell, one of three co-chairs -- are meant to be accomplished by 2020. The initial work to be carried out over the next 18 months began by tapping Bold Fusions breakout sessions, which were organized into small working groups at some 40 tables. Participants were asked to strategically think about the goals of the initiative that had been presented.
"What's really important is this is not a visioning exercise," said Co-Chair Ellen van der Horst. "This is not 'What do you want to be when you grow up.' This is really meant to take stock of what's going on right now that's really working for us and giving it enough support."
Though the agenda was unveiled before the crowd of about 375 young professionals, the YP demographic is said to be only a piece of the puzzle.
The agenda now goes on the road to churches, community centers and public forums in communities across southwest Ohio.
"Our goal is to listen to every segment of our region," said Co-Chair Kevin Ghassomian.
The agenda's success is contingent on reaching four goals: developing performance indicators -- called "metrics" -- for success and continuously monitoring regional progress against them; nurturing the region's physical, cultural and intellectual assets; uniting the region in a consensus for prioritized action; and critically confronting the challenges of diversity, inclusion and economic disparity.
The need to address at least one of the goals was underscored by the repeated concern voiced about the absence of racial diversity at Bold Fusion.
"Diversity was one of the problems," said Christopher Diebler, an attorney with Taft, Stettinius and Hollister. "I see a lot of white faces."
"Diversity is what makes a city metropolitan," said Arlene Aranzamendez, the owner of a graphic design firm. "I want to hear other languages."
She said marketing for the event has yet to tap channels that would draw in a broader cross-section of the city.
But there were also those who believed Bold Fusion wasn't conclusively short on diversity. Jay Kalagayan, executive director of the Know Theatre Tribe, said he was more focused on the results that he thought Agenda 360 would offer as to where the city needs to move on such issues.
"We need to be realistic about where the city is with diversity not just diversity in race but in economics," he said. "We need to find out where we are at with 360 and where we need to go."
All together now
Despite ideological differences across the region, Van der Horst said government officials from all four counties have been engaged with Agenda 360.
"It has really been gratifying to hear them express their appreciation for the fact that we're all interdependent," she said.
Gov. Ted Strickland, a surprise addition to the day's itinerary, acknowledged that some political divides had served as obstacles to progress in the region.
"Based on what I have seen and heard today, any divisiveness seems to have dissipated and that there is really cooperation, for example, between the county and the city officials," he said. "I assume that is, at least in large part, what has led to where we are today. There will be groundbreakings. There will be growth and development. And areas that, where there has been intractable disagreement, will now move forward and see the progress that is desirable for the area."
Keynote speaker Carol Coletta addressed the audience at Duke Energy Center, offering advice for attracting and retaining 25-34 year olds, American cities' most sought-after age block. The host of the nationally syndicated Smart City radio show and president of CEOs for Cities -- an organization that studies regional smart growth initiatives -- Coletta said studies of the nation's top 50 metro areas indicated that, like Cincinnati, two-thirds of them lost 25-34 year olds.
Her insights were key to the premises of Agenda 360 as it related to Bold Fusion. She said the 25-34 year old demographic is instrumental in the development of a center city, which is key to a region pulling itself up by its boot straps.
Agenda 360's focus will fall on five categories of work: competitive economy, educational excellence, livable communities, urban renaissance and effective governance.
"I think we all understand you can't be a suburb of nowhere," Ghassomian said. "You can't just be a city in a global economy. You can't just be a county. You can't just be a neighborhood. You need to leverage the entire region. And that is what the whole initiative is about: It is getting together one entire region to get together on a common plan." ©
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