“Are we great yet? Are we great yet?” Sort of like the kids yelling from the backseat, “Are we there yet?” That’s often a question we get about the efforts of the Navigating from Good to Foundation as we reach the end of the initiative’s first five years.
The foundation was birthed out a Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Intracity Visit in 2006 as a mechanism to move the region from being a pretty good place to work, live and play to being a great place. A campaign was launched to fund a five-year program and some $3.2 million was raised.
The primary tools of the foundation are coordination, collaboration and education to align and focus diverse efforts into a unity of purpose. The realization of what our community can become by all people working toward a shared vision is the cornerstone of Navigating from Good to Great.
While much of the work is carried out by the chamber, the foundation is a separate 501(c)3 and the program and funds are overseen by a separate board.
The foundation’s work began in earnest in 2007 and during our first five years we have seen successes on multiple fronts:
- The foundation partnered with the City of Columbia to create an existing business retention and expansion program that has led to an effort to reform the business services operations of both the city and Richland County, creating an easier place to do business.
- Through partnership with Columbia Opportunity Resource, thousands of young professionals are becoming better connected to the region for “leadership, service and fun.” Many are finding reasons to stay.
- A collaboration with New Carolina and EngenuitySC helped launch iTs|SC, Columbia’s Insurance Technology and Service Cluster, and promote a nearly $7 billion growth industry that employs about 15,000.
- The foundation provided some seed money and fund-raising assistance to the Midlands Housing Alliance to build Transitions, the region’s comprehensive service center for the homeless.
- With the assistance of several partners, we helped create the Midstate Chambers Coalition, giving our region a unified voice at the state level for the first time.
- We launched the Graduation Imperative, a collaborative initiative with the Central Carolina Community Foundation, COR and the S.C. Higher Education Foundation, to increase the number of college graduates in our region, and thus increase their economic impact.
- And we became “Famously Hot” through a collaboration that helped turn the Columbia region into a nationally recognized place brand.
Over the five years, our model has shifted to one of Economic/Community Development as we realized that you can’t have great economic development without great community development. Likewise, great community development requires great economic development.
The success of the first five years has led to a renewal of our efforts. The next five years of Navigating from Good to Great has been subtitled “Setting a New Direction.”
Under Economic Development we look toward:
- Creating a regional economic vision and plan.
- Continuing support for our military installations.
- Continuing our business retention & expansion efforts.
- Supporting the Riverfront and Bull Street development initiatives.
- Fostering regional and intergovernmental cooperation.
- Continuing support for business cluster development.
- Supporting workforce development initiatives.
On the Community Development front, we will focus on:
- Continuing to improve public transit and transportation infrastructure.
- Preparing a future generation of business and community leaders.
- Making sure that we do not lose the gains made in dealing with issues such as homelessness.
- Continuing to build quality of life through support for the arts and safeguarding our environment.
- Making our region safe from crime.
Is it a huge undertaking? Yes. Can we do it alone? No. Navigating from Good to Great will continue to refine and implement an economic/community development model based on unification and collaboration across the region. As our case for 2012-2017 says, “It will require all of us to achieve the dream of becoming great. We will let nothing separate us, be it a road, race, age or even a river.”
To help us work on these initiatives over the next five years, Navigating from Good to Great is launching a new five-year $4 million capital campaign.
So, while we aren’t great yet, we are a lot closer than we were five years ago. Will we be there in another five years? I believe we will be even closer. But the truth is that if we ever start believing we are actually great, we won’t be. We will always have room to improve our community.
C. Grant Jackson is senior vice president/community development for the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at (803) 733-2513 or at email@example.com