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Thinking Outside The Blocks

Orlando: Inclusion is Key

That sense of inclusion has also been critical in Orlando, Fla. Through myregion.org, a regional development program, citizens and leaders from public private, and institutional sectors combine resources to address the “questions, worries and hopes” of the community.

Faced with phenomenal population growth (a seven-county region of 3.5 million people, with 4 million more projected by 2050), transportation challenges, and concerns over tourism, emergency healthcare, land-use policies and environmental protection, Orlando and its surrounding communities share many of the same worries.

Myregion.org sought to prioritize those issues, identifying six key areas: economic leadership, environment, education, quality of life, regional fragmentation and smart quality growth, says Jacob Stuart, president of the Orlando (FL) Regional Chamber of Commerce, one of the original funding partners of myregion.org.

Working on those priorities was an organization that provided an equal share to all involved parties. “Since its inception, myregion.org has held itself to a core value of inclusion. Because of its very definition and website-based communication, it has been a public vehicle for information and input,” Stuart says.

It was also organized to include a balance of leadership and funding from the public, private and civic sectors, with no one entity ‘in charge.’ It is truly a collaborative model,” Stuart continues. “We worked very hard in the beginning to identify the organizations that should be included from each of those sectors, and our community outreach is based on a balance of those stakeholders as well.

Here, too, the various sectors defined the “region” in different ways. “As an example of how difficult a collaboration of this type is, this same area includes two state-defined regional planning councils, three water management districts, 86 municipalities, and other state and national governmental jurisdictions that do not necessarily align in what would be logical parameters,” Stuart says.

But driven by their common issues, the partners in myregion.org work together and can already boast of accomplishments such as building multiple partnerships, developing a regional branding strategy, receiving economic development plans, and collaborating with community leaders to organize regional data and create a coordinated, comprehensive plan for Central Florida’s growth.

One of the important, and unexpected benefits of myregion.org’s work has been the relationship building that has occurred,” Stuart says. “Public, private and civic sector leadership who came together as strangers five years ago have now built an environment of friendship and trust. Myregion.org has become a safe place in which to convene and conduct the sometimes-difficult discussions that are a necessary part of community-building.

Because of those discussions,” Stuart explains, “we realized, for example, that the environmental assets located in one of the counties are regional assets that must be protected by all of the counties. Likewise, in the area of economic development, leaders are beginning to understand that by competing with each other, we could possibly lose projects or economic opportunities to other regions or states.

But by understanding what each of the counties has to offer, we can work together to ensure that we get our ‘piece of the pie’ as a region,” he notes. “Our success, we believe, is a result of the fact that everyone is welcomed at the table.

 

Article originally published at the Chamber Executive Magazine