Much like Macon, the community of Tallahassee, Fla., received a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to launch a series of initiatives designed to improve life in the area.
But Tallahassee has taken a different approach than Macon in how it is using its grant. Leaders in Tallahassee launched the Knight Creative Community Institute to oversee those initiatives.
A Macon delegation traveled to Tallahassee last week to get some ideas and see how those initiatives are doing.
“It’s getting a different perspective of the process,” said Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, who made the trip along with chamber Chairman Robbo Hatcher. “They identify and address certain issues that are important to the community.”
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Macon has received a few grants from the Knight Foundation to fund projects with the College Hill Alliance — the partnership between the city and Mercer University to develop the corridor area between the college and downtown — and with the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, through which members of the community can apply for grant money to launch their own neighborhood improvement projects in the corridor area.
In Tallahassee, KCCI unites all of the various stakeholders in the city, including the city and county governments, the chamber of commerce, Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College with the Knight Foundation. Their goal is to come up with ways to keep graduates from those colleges in the Tallahassee area and train them to be the next generation of community leaders.
It’s a plan that was devised by Richard Florida in his book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” in which the author argues that by creating a sense of place for these graduates, they are more likely to stay in the city, which will ultimately help foster economic, environmental and cultural development.
A group called Leadership Tallahassee recruits young talent in the area and trains them in the leadership process. Many of the graduates of Leadership Tallahassee have gone on to work on KCCI projects, said J. Michael Pate, the director of the Knight Foundation in Tallahassee.
“We’re creating a sense of place to keep the young people here,” he said. “We select 30 people who are community catalysts. They get training and research data about the Tallahassee area. We then ask them to create projects that create a sense of place.”
Macon has its own Leadership Macon class each year, through a program administered by the chamber, but KCCI is comparable to post-graduate studies for Leadership Tallahassee, Pate said.
The first KCCI class came up with three ideas: Get Gaines Going, a project that seeks to turn Gaines Street — a major thoroughfare that runs through Florida State and Florida A&M — into an arts and entertainment district; Sustain Tallahassee, which is developing green options for the city; and the Tallahassee Film Festival.
“We were very impressed with how they are able to involve young people and people who haven’t traditionally been involved with the city,” said Kathryn Dennis, executive director of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, who also made the trip. “Their energy was amazing, their passion for the city and wanting to make it better.”
A second KCCI class is in its fourth month and is working on four separate projects set to launch by October:
— Illuminate Tallahassee, which seeks to create outdoor art and more light in the city, but in an energy-efficient way.
— Explore Outdoors, which aims to promote outdoor life and opportunities around the Tallahassee area.
— Talent Lives Here, designed to work with Tallahassee businesses to create job and internship opportunities to keep the members of the creative class in the area.
— Startup Startup, which is designed to help foster entrepreneurial efforts in the city.
For the group from Macon that made the trip, it was not only a chance to take notes to see what has worked in Tallahassee, but also what hasn’t.
“With some of the initiatives they’ve undertaken, what they articulated to us is what they would change,” Cherry said. “It’s having the value of hindsight.”
Dennis said the Macon delegation will likely meet in the near future to discuss what was learned on the trip and what could be applied in Macon.
Beverly Blake, executive director of the Knight Foundation in Macon, organized the trip and said the group hopes to bring some of the ideas they saw in practice down in Tallahassee and apply them to initiatives here.
“We’re hoping to help our chamber leadership and how they might expand the toolkit for economic development,” she said. “(Keeping) our college graduates can bring new ideas and new jobs to Macon. We want to supplement our current business strategy. How can we expand our current business strategy by taking these young people in? We have eight institutes of higher learning in this area and we need to keep those students here.”
The Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of Macon and 25 other U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers in their lifetimes.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.