About 260 people attended a business community discussion of the Future of Toledo Initiative with its leaders and Mayor Mike Bell, held Nov. 29 at the Valentine Theater in Downtown Toledo.
“The city is destined to be much better than it has been. We can turn this place around if we start moving forward,” Bell told the audience of business men and women.
“It’s important for our kids and their future. We have to start building ourselves up. We’re moving in the right direction and still have a long way to go but we can get there,” Bell said.
The Future of Toledo Initiative (FoT) is a grassroots effort by community members who have joined in a collaborative process to accelerate the transformation of the city and region, according to its leadership.
In a survey conducted by the group, 75 percent of Toledo’s citizens care about the future and have a positive attitude about transforming the city for future generations.
“We need to reach that other 25 percent (of citizens),” said Steve Cady, coordinator of the FoT Initiative.
The group began by conducting discussions with interested citizens to discuss where Toledo is as a city today, where it is going and how it will get there, Cady said. The group got a “critical mass” to unite around a common dissatisfactions with what the city is doing and those ready for a change, he said.
The initiative began with a series of meetings held in June and August for a strategic self-assessment of the city. FoT created a joint vision reflected in the goals and strategic plan of the initiative.
The FoT’s vision is of “Toledo as a vibrant and thriving community destination” for is residents and visitors.
“It’s a huge first step for our community. We can make Toledo what we want it to be,” said Don Harbaugh of Toledo Molding & Die Inc., who serves as co-chair of FoT with Jeannie Hylant of the Hylant Group in Toledo.
Transformation on a large scale requires efficient and connected conversations that lead to innovative decisions. Those decisions are best implemented by a broad set of energized stakeholders, according to FoT’s action plan.
“We need your help if we are to succeed,” Cady said.
The initiative is holding meetings and presentations to recruit people to help develop a strategic plan for “Your Vision for Toledo in 2020,” aiming to put together the action plans in January 2013, Cady said.
“We can do anything we want to do. This is our city and we are prepared to do whatever it takes,” Bell said.
The mayor told the crowd that there are so many people interested in Toledo. Chinese visitors who attended the 5 Lakes Global Economic Summit here in September liked Toledo better than New York, Los Angeles or Las Vegas, he said.
Bell said they were told that sailors, who visited Toledo this summer for Navy Week, were more impressed with Toledo than any other city on their tour of the Great Lakes.
“This is a great city and we can make it even better by working together,” Bell said. “Everything that is wrong can be fixed if people want it fixed.”
People in attendance held group discussions by table, asked questions and made suggestions regarding the initiative, its goals and plans at the meeting.
Tom Baird, proprietor of the Ottawa Tavern, suggested Toledo needs to engage youth with the arts community, bringing them together Downtown, saying he feels the arts are best for economic development Downtown.
“What can we do to make Downtown more user-friendly?” asked someone who was following the discussion online on Twitter.
Mayor Bell reported that suggestions have been made to install bicycle racks downtown to encourage more people to ride bikes. The city is already looking at ways to make Downtown more pedestrian-friendly, Bell said.
“How do we create more hometown jobs with local companies?” was another question posed.
“First, employers have to believe that you care about your city,” Bell said. “We need to bring new money into the city of Toledo from foreign countries.”
He reported on the Toledo business delegation’s recent trip to China and how much interest there is in Toledo from the Chinese business community. Bell said the local business people on the trip witnessed that firsthand.
The FoT Initiative leaders believe that when there is an agreement on the goals and plans by the critical mass, and it is greater than the collective resistance, individual and group belief in what is possible will shift.
When a tipping point is reached and the paradigm shifts, positive change will begin to happen, the FoT leadership said.
For more information about the initiative, go to www.futureoftoledo.com.