Fayetteville Forward: Q&A with Don Marr

Last week, we mentioned the Fayetteville Forward Summit in a post about free WiFi in Fayetteville. A lot of you had some pretty strong opinions about that subject. Next week, you’ll have the opportunity to make your voices heard on that and other issues facing Fayetteville during the first ever Fayetteville Forward Summit.

It begins March 31st and the goal is to create an economic development plan along with a timeline for implementation including action items to improve the city of Fayetteville.

All Fayetteville residents are encouraged to participate in the process and will have the option to choose from one of three dates for the first half of the summit entitled “Discover and Dream.” The second session, “Design and Deploy,” is an all-day affair from 8am to 5pm on April 4th and will focus on taking the information gathered from the first session and figuring out how to turn ideas into reality.

We got in touch with Mayor Lioneld Jordan’s Chief of Staff, Don Marr, and he was nice enough to elaborate on what exactly Fayetteville Forward is, and what the city hopes to accomplish with it.

Fayetteville Flyer: The ultimate goal of the Fayetteville Forward summit is to create an economic development plan for Fayetteville. How will this be achieved (IE, who will moderate, who will be responsible for compiling the data gathered, and creating and implementing the finalized plan?)
Don Marr: The summit will use Appreciative Inquiry as the methodology. Bliss Browne, founder of Imagine Chicago, will facilitate. I would recommend visiting the Imagine Chicago website to see Bliss’ resume and the many accolades and honors they have received.

City staff will assist with summit logistics and will help to capture and disseminate summit results. Outcomes of the summit include a compelling vision for the future and the start of some collaborative partnerships to work on discreet initiatives that will help to drive economic development. The city does not “DO” economic development. The city can create favorable conditions for development, but more importantly can help to bring various stakeholder groups together to work collaboratively toward mutually beneficial results that no single entity can accomplish alone.

FF: What other goals do you have for the summit?
DM: As stated above, we would like to foster partnerships between multiple stakeholder groups, identify actions steps necessary to foster this climate of economic growth, gain consensus on direction, and make sure that the City has specific action plans, target dates, and owners, of those items that belong to the City of Fayetteville and the Mayor.

FF: There are two phases of the summit that take place in two one-day sessions. Can you give us an idea of what kinds of things can citizens expect from the first day?
Day 1: Discover and Dream – citizens will work in small groups to articulate Fayetteville’s strengths; those things we want to preserve and bring into the future. It is about identifying strengths that we can leverage to create the future. It is very positive.

Dream is about brainstorming together and engaging is a “what if” exercise. What would be a radical vision for the future? What would excite and engage people? What is the best possible future we can imagine?

FF: And what about the Saturday session? What kinds of things will happen there?
DM: Saturday is about Design and Deploy; we take the strengths and dreams and begin to think about how to make them happen. What do we need to create? Who are the stakeholders and partners who can get it done? We will identify initiatives that we can undertake to move forward. Each initiative will have a goals; owners identified and time lines.

The summit is the start of a process. AFTER the summit the real work begins. Each owner of a goal will write its own plan with action steps and milestones and time lines to accomplish that goal. This happens after the summit.

FF: According to Wikipedia, there are 67,000 some-odd people in Fayetteville. I doubt they all will attend the summit, but I’ll bet there will be a pretty wide range of personalities and opinions that will need to be represented in the plan. How can you take all these differing ideas, and make them into a plan that is best for Fayetteville?
DM: That is the beauty of Appreciative Inquiry. The methodology is uniquely suited to helping people of very different perspectives and points of view find common ground from which to work together in mutually beneficial ways. We have more in common than we have things that separate us. If AI can be used to bring an entire industry together to reduce its carbon footprint, then it can help us work together to improve the city we all call home

FF: One of the things that Mayor Jordan said would be discussed in the summit was the possibility of free WiFi in Fayetteville. What are some of the economic benefits of citywide free WiFi?
DM: So much information is available today on the internet and websites. Mayor Jordan believes that the primary thing that propels people to succeed is education, and providing as much access as possible for people to obtain information, research, and educate themselves only improves the lives of everyone involved. Not to mention this makes us more attractive to prospective employees, particularly the next generation of employees.

FF: What are some of the drawbacks or limitations?
DM: The main drawback we see is having our community focus on our differences in the past rather than where we have agreement, and how to use the positives of our community going forward. We must act, we can’t just keep talking about it. This summit is focused on actions and we must come out of this summit with clear objectives and owners.

FF: What are some other ideas that will be discussed?
DM: We hope that we will talk about keeping the businesses we have and supporting new entrepreneurial efforts. We hope we will talk about bringing/recruiting new companies. We hope we will talk about training people for the green jobs of the future. We hope that we will talk about freeing up encumbered wealth. We hope that sustainability is an important theme – we can’t attract the sustainability jobs of the future if we don’t do sustainability ourselves. We have to walk the talk. We have to focus on the triple bottom line – people, planet, and profit. The environment and economics are not mutually exclusive goals – either/or – they are both.

Other areas that we would like to obtain feedback on are as follows:

  • What economic development tools do you believe are needed to promote Fayetteville and NW Arkansas to prospective Company Employers?
  • What pieces of information, and what promotional material do you believe is needed to promote Fayetteville and NW Arkansas to prospective Employees/Workforce?
  • What ideas do you have for Economic Development Incentives, and what protection as fellow citizens do you want to see in place when offering such incentives?
  • Economic Development opportunities are often kept quiet and confidential and prospective companies will often forgo opportunities if they become too public too early. With guiding principles should be in place while the prospect phase is taking place, and when and how should the public be involved in the process?
  • What do you think are the 5 most important actions that the City of Fayetteville needs to take to be more effective in Economic Development activities?

FF: How will the findings from the Eva Klein study, the 2025 plan, and other studies be integrated into the summit?
DM: Basically, the summit can be a way for us to connect the dots between the studies, to weave these efforts together into a comprehensive and cohesive whole. 2025 is about physical spaces and where things are located. It is not an economic development plan. It does help to create a sense of place and create a climate that fosters economic development. So it is important. But it is only a part of the solution. The Eva Klein study provides recommendations, that will set the stage for economic development.

With regard to the Eva Klein study, I quote: “an important objective for Phase I was the achievement of a reasonable degree of buy-in and commitment by the regional stakeholders to a common vision. (p. 1)” Our reaction to that is what vision? After reading the study, the information resembling a vision is on page 17, “be a healthy, beautiful, prosperous, and fun place.” That’s nice, but is that OUR vision?

It is stated on page 21, “with this deliverable, stakeholders may consider that the vision part of planning, comprised of six major strategy areas and six goal statements is completed and that the vision and goals may be adopted.” Our reaction to that is this is not a vision. There are 6 major strategy areas and 6 goal statements”. We don’t see in the list of participants, the health care community or religious organizations, or environmental NGO’s or social NGO’s. We don’t see neighborhood associations. We want to see more university participation.

Eva Klein did a Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats analysis. SWOT is not the same as vision.

Appreciative Inquiry is a different process. It is inclusive and brings a much broader group of stakeholders to the table. People will buy into what they have a hand in creating. They will get their friends and neighbors to buy-in as well. A truly inspiring vision will energize people and they will want to be involved and contribute to make it a reality.

One of the major things that struck us from the study is the comment that “Fayetteville is a city divided against itself.” Eva Klein recommended getting the people in the middle involved. But we think there is a better solution. Yes – get the middle to speak up, by all means; But get the two extremes to talk to each other also. The developer doesn’t want to destroy Fayetteville. They really just want to make money. The “no development” camp doesn’t want to live in a dying city with no jobs or economic future and they don’t want to live in an ugly city. How can we bring them together around a common vision? Is it better than a weak compromise or a delicate truce or drowning out their voices by getting the middle to speak louder. A compelling vision speaks to both groups, it resonates.

A major recommendation is to get the various stakeholders to work together, to collaborate regionally. I think we have to get our various stakeholders to work together LOCALLY first. We have been clear with our facilitator Bliss Brown, that this needs to be the focus of the summit. Create a vision, then start building collaborative partnerships to make that vision a reality.

So let’s talk about an example of one area. If the vision were to build a truly sustainable city, what will we have to do TOGETHER to make that happen?

Health is a major component of sustainability. What are the metrics for a healthy city? Who are the partners? WRMC for sure! Fayetteville schools are in! Nutrition is key, so get the community gardens folks on the team. What about the VA and UAMS? U of A, particularly the college of health and education. The city has a role to play in terms of trails, parks, and recreation. Business is a major stakeholder. What if their insurance premiums went down, productivity went up? Our citizens, particularly those at the bottom of the economic ladder, are key beneficiaries. They have a lot of wealth encumbered in health care expenses – prescriptions, doctors bills, chronic illnesses, and when they can’t go to work whether they are sick or a child or parent is sick, they lose wages, a double whammy. What would happen if they were healthier? Spent less on health related expenses? Had fewer lost wages due to sick days? What could they do with that extra money ? And health is the number one predictor of well-being and happiness.

So if that were the case, at the summit, a group of the above stakeholders would then start coming up with one or more initiatives that they could tackle. Maybe they decide to create health circles in the community. Maybe student interns from the U of A become personal trainers for circles and help them to stay motivated and on track. Maybe businesses start looking at their opportunities to promote health. Maybe we launch a city-wide effort to lose 60,000 lbs – just one lb for every man, woman and child. What if we celebrated people who hit their health goals? What if everyone was talking about health?

What does that have to do with economic development? What company wouldn’t want to come here and be a part of that? Happy healthy workforce, low insurance premiums, health related businesses – it goes on and on.

But health is only one vision. What if Fayetteville were a wireless city? Who would benefit? Who are the partners? What does the initiative look like? What are the goals and key steps to success?

The summit is intended to generate radical visions for the future and set in motion the collaborative partnerships to make those visions real. Key is follow up through communicating the vision and reporting results and outcomes. We must hold ourselves accountable.

FF: Ideally, who will participate in the Fayetteville Forward summit?
DM: Everyone! Teachers and students. Neighborhood association leaders. Non-profits like Sierra Club and Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks. Business owners, the investment community, Labor/Workers. Members of the religious community. Artists. Youth leaders. You name it! Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed. Everyone is important in this process. Given the challenges we face – economic, environmental, etc, we don’t know where the next best idea will come from. We can’t afford to limit participation and ideas.

FF: What else should the public know about Fayetteville Forward before attending the summit?
DM: It’s only giving up 1 day and 3 hours of your life for input into the future of your family, your children and our City. We want people to be involved in the process, and this is the plan that will drive the City’s staffing and financial resources over the next four years of Mayor Jordan’s term. If you don’t participate now, you are losing your chance to be a part of the plan. Go to www.accessfayetteville.org and register to participate TODAY!

For more info on the Fayetteville Forward summit, click here. To register, click here.