JCCI asks for help with action strategies

Release event scheduled for May 18

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

One of the most critical sessions of the JAX2025 vision workshops was, by far, the most under-attended. Although, according to JCCI president Ben Warner, and moderator of the event, its RSVPs were the highest of all the events, that warm, sunny Saturday may have created other priorities.

At least six tables of eight were set up for each of the 10 vision categories, anticipating a small crowd of close to 500. But less than 300 turned out on Apr. 27 to first identify the organizations, institutions, agencies and coalitions that need to be involved in implementing the JAX 2025 vision, and then to create the action strategies that these groups should consider.

The participants continue to be a diverse mix of community and business leaders, educators and politicos, young adults (and a few children) as well as those who are under- or unemployed or retired, and those who are new to Jacksonville versus people for whom the Great Fire of 1901 is part of family history.

The issues discussed at a table for “A Vibrant Economy” were similar to those at other categories’ tables: the city already has a plethora of organizations working on their own visions instead of coming together focused on a single purpose.
“Jacksonville [groups] are unintentionally blocking each other and not working on a common, collaborative vision,” said relative newcomer Paul Astleford, president and CEO of Visit Jacksonville. “There seems to be a silo-driven, project-driven mentality.”
Former JCCI president Skip Cramer chuckled. “That’s Jacksonvillians!” But he went on to ask, “Isn’t JAX2025 to be that organization to bring them together?”

Kandace Knutson, who says that she is underemployed alternating with stages of unemployment, suggested that the gate has long been opened and perhaps it is too late to try to “bring them back off the range.” Cramer responded, “We shouldn’t try to herd the cattle back to the corral, but instead point them to an end destination, a shared vision.”

Sharing a single, all-encompassing vision is easier said than done when there are 10 sub-visions under development, but the goal is to unite them under the vision of a positive future for Jacksonville by 2025.

One of the keys to a positive future is a stronger economy in the city and its neighborhoods. Janice Donaldson, regional director of UNF’s Small Business Development Center, said that “traditional economic development is to find a big company and get them to relocate to Jacksonville, to Downtown. That doesn’t speak to small businesses.”

While small businesses in Florida account for nearly 99% of all employers and employ over 40% of the private-sector workforce, they typically do not provide health benefits or full-time work schedules.* To move the needle on the under/unemployment rate, Jacksonville needs to attract large companies to the area.

According to Astleford, this starts with visitors to the city, but “the power of the visitor isn’t just filling a hotel room,” he said. “You’re exposing the city to bring people to live in the community.” Cramer, currently the interim Regional Volunteer Management Director of the North Florida Region of the American Red Cross, shared that sentiment. “We have to be ambassadors for our own community and get past our [Jacksonville’s] inferiority complex.”

The recent five-day One Spark event held Downtown certainly exposed the city, but the majority of visitors were likely area residents, as less than 25 percent of the projects came from creators outside of Northeast Florida.
Donaldson said she spoke to some of the creators to see if they were aware of the SBA or UNF’s Small Business Development Center.

“Younger people think of entrepreneurship so differently; they did not take advantage of the SBA or SBDC. How do we modernize ourselves?” she asked.

“We’re the ones who have to facilitate the transformations and invite young people into leadership,” said Astleford of Visit Jacksonville.
UNF recently did just that, hiring Jared Bailey, a former graduate student, for a full-time position in the SBDC. “The plan is for Jared to play an active role in the young entrepreneur community, representing the SBDC,” said Donaldson. “He will be consulting with prospective and new business owners in the Center, in addition to teaching workshops on new media topics.”

Just one more event remains in the JAX2025 schedule. On May 18, participants are invited to come together for the “release and launch” of the action plans. That event will be held at the West Touchdown Club at EverBank Field, beginning at 9 a.m.
* Statistics available from www.sba.gov.

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