In just a few weeks it will be one year since I joined 14 other Mansfielders on the journey of a lifetime to the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.
For me, the real beginning was even earlier, in April 2017, when Richland Source publisher, Jay Allred called me to pose the question, “Would the Chamber consider sponsoring a trip to SXSW?”
We called the Richland County Foundation, and that set off a whirlwind of planning, brainstorming, traveling and activity that resulted in the “Mansfield Rising” downtown investment plan that you will soon have the chance to read.
I have worked in the Chamber industry since 2003, when I was only 26 years old. During this time, I have been involved in a multitude of planning exercises from small to large.
Still, my experience as a “Mansfield Rising” team member has been unlike anything else I have ever done. I can honestly say it has been one of the most invigorating, challenging, inspiring, demanding, exciting, and yes, at times, stressful projects in which I have participated.
Since I have been involved from the start, I can say that this project has far exceeded my expectations. It has changed me, and I believe that if we will allow it, it can be an impetus for change in our community.
How has it changed me?
First, it has created in me a strong belief that even a smaller community like ours can do big, innovative things. Walking around SXSW every day, you were confronted by future technology, innovation, and new ways of doing things. I think we all came back inspired by that environment.
It’s sometimes easy in our community to focus on the things we don’t have, or can’t do (Have you ever read the comments on the internet?). This experience taught me to focus on what we wanted to achieve first, then figure out how to do it. Inspire people with the vision, and it is amazing what you can accomplish.
Second, it has emphasized the importance of relationships in getting things done. When I stepped foot on the plane to Austin, I knew pretty much everyone on the team at a base level. Over the course of the week I got to know them on a much different basis. We had a shared experience together and that created a bond.
In the months that followed, we continued to solidify that bond as we worked together to create the plan. We learned about each other’s families, celebrated each other’s successes, mourned each other’s losses and became friends. We didn’t all agree on everything either (still don’t!), but because there was a base level of trust that had been created, we were able to have some uncomfortable conversations without ending up mad.
We also worked together on many other projects throughout the year.
Now we can’t send every citizen to SXSW, but this experience does have me thinking about how we can scale this so that strong bonds can be built in all areas of our community. Building trusting, healthy relationships between leaders and organizations can be hugely impactful.
Third, it has cemented in my mind the importance of working together, which can be a catalyst to change. Yes, sometimes it is harder to be collaborative. It can be messy and slow, but I am firmly convinced that if done right, you will end up with a better product.
The projects in this plan are huge. Do I think we can accomplish them? Yes, I absolutely do.
The reason I believe so strongly in it is because we are all working together to accomplish it. This isn’t just the Foundation, or Chamber, or City, or County, or Downtown Mansfield, Inc. or any other entity doing this on their own. We are all trying to work together to move forward and to me, that is far more important than any particular project in the plan.
We can do big things in Mansfield, Ohio … just watch us go.