Project Innovation: Community leaders develop 6 goals to improve local economy

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Project Innovation: Sustainable Community Standards

Don Upton, president of Fairfield Index, discusses ...

— The moderator’s cry at the fifth community session for Project Innovation sounded a bit like Johnny 5, the robot star of “Short Circuit.”

“Input, I need input,” the robot demanded in the movie. That’s what Don Upton, the session’s director, was after on Thursday from community leaders gathered at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. He needed more input.

The Economic Development Council of Collier County, which launched Project Innovation late last year, called it reckoning day for Collier’s economy. The mission of the project is “Action to power our local economy.”

The action plan isn’t there yet. But it moved forward at the two-hour session with agreement on its “goals and drivers.” There are six of them: talent, governance, business climate, quality of life/place, innovation and infrastructure. That covers everything from education to transportation.

“We have a working framework,” said Upton, president of Tampa-based Fairfield Index Inc. “We have working definitions. We have a desire to set metrics under the goals.”

The group involved in the project wants goals that are measurable — and sustainable. Their definition of sustainable means everything from protecting the environment to producing a return on investment.

At the meeting, live electronic voting returned. Armed with clickers again, community leaders were asked to answer a series of multiple-choice questions — some the same as last time they met. The results appeared instantly.

This time, Upton asked the group of about 150 to vote on the six goals and drivers as they appeared on the screen for the first time. When the results weren’t as good as he wanted, he asked those with concerns to give “a shout out.”

After discussing the goals in more detail and what would be included under each one, the group showed very strong support, mostly eights, nines and 10s. On a scale of one to 10, a 10 was considered perfect.

Upton described the meeting as another milestone. He said all the “heavy lifting” is done between meetings, when more input is sought and ideas are tweaked.

On top of the goals and drivers, the group is putting the words “World Class.” That means the standard for everything will be to make it world class, from schools and parks to research and business.

While discussing the goals, several in the group complained about what they see as an anti-business attitude in the county. Developer Ron Rice said the county’s high impact fees should be addressed under business climate. He said a couple wanting to build a Burger King had to pay $548,000 in impact fees, which are one-time costs charged on new construction to pay for community needs such as parks and roads. He called that “hideous.”

“We’re being held hostage by impact fees,” he said.

Fred Thomas, a long-time Immokalee activist, talked about how a farmworker dormitory in the community had to be cut in size a few years ago because expenses were so high for the landscaping the county required, even though the project couldn’t be seen from the main road.

“They are more about pretty than they are about function,” he said.

During the live polling, more than 70 percent said they wanted the county to be sought out for best practices in innovation and community engagement.

The group will meet again in April to work on its “action agenda,” Upton said.

There are two goals with Project Innovation: to create a shared vision and action plan for a strong and innovative economy, and to stimulate innovation among businesses, schools, government and the community.

Tammie Nemecek, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council, said the project is moving ahead faster than expected. She said the framework for the action plan could be finalized at the next meeting.

But she doesn’t expect the plan to be in its final form until October. It will be mulled over during the summer by a team of leaders that are guiding the project.

She said at the next meeting participants will be asked to come up with the aspiration for their community that will define what they want it to be known for.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Nemecek said.

To learn more about Project Innovation, visit projectinnovation.cc.

Project Innovation is moving along.

On Thursday, leaders decided on six goals that will drive an action plan to improve Collier County’s economy.

The goals are:

■ Talent

■ Governance

■ Business Climate

■ Quality of Life/Place

■ Innovation

■ Infrastructure

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