By Vicki Prichard
Bill Scheyer knows the impact of a strategic vision. He sees the proof from his office at RiverCentre in Covington, and how it all began when Bill Butler, Bill Robinson, Frank Sommerkamp and other key leaders took on a big job — including legislative changes — to develop a regional plan for Northern Kentucky.
“One of my favorite anecdotes about it is on the cover of the report. When it was issued there was a rendering of what would become the RiverCentre building,” says Scheyer, president of Skyward. “So, it really speaks to the fact that if you bring people together in a community, and figure out what their vision is for the future, and how they want to lead the community forward, big things can come out of it.”
The towering riverfront skyline is, quite literally, a perfect illustration of the power of a community vision — a strategic plan — which grows over time, evolves and moves forward.
Today, Skyward empowers the visionaries and designs the strategic roadmap for the region’s economic and social growth.
Last year, Skyward released its myNKY five-year strategic plan, and this year, along with the Northern Kentucky Tri-Ed (Tri-Copunty Economic Development Corporation), launched the investment campaign, One Vision One Voice. The campaign will provide the critical funds for initiatives throughout Northern Kentucky that will impact areas such as education, community health, high-wage jobs and workforce readiness.
Skyward: Different name, same determination
To fully appreciate and understand the significance of the visioning entity’s campaign, one need only look to its earliest incarnations to see why a good plan and its implementation matters to a community’s future.
In 1995, Forward Quest was Northern Kentucky’s first true visioning project — an effort to develop a 25-year strategic vision. Scheyer says both the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Tri-Ed had initiated visioning projects. The two put their efforts together, with Butler and Reverend William Cleves, then president of Thomas More College, as co-chairs. That led to the Quest Vision Report.
The Quest process embraced communication — a sharing of ideas. More than 100 meeting with roughly 1000 citizens over an 18-month period, through public forums, phone calls, faxes and emails took place as community leaders and citizens weighed in with what Northern Kentucky’s future could look like. The outcome was a 40-page report identifying six action areas and 44 initiatives, giving structure and strategy to a regional vision.
“Coming out of that was the formation of Forward Quest as a small organization to keep track of everything, so it just didn’t become a report that sat on shelves and randomly got implemented,” says Scheyer.
Because Forward Quest came into existence in 1996, says Scheyer, and was written as a 25-year plan, it was decided in 2005 that updates were likely necessary. Vision 2015 was born out of that effort to reflect and refine the plan — and build on the considerable progress.
“What was interesting was how quickly 2015 got here,” says Scheyer. “We actually started the new planning process in 2013 and spent most of 2013 just doing background research. We had a person on staff who contacted all of the people who had been involved in the Vision 2015 plan as well as people who had been involved in other strategic plan updates in this area since then, as well as people from all around the country whose communities had done visioning and broad community development plans.”
From that, he says, they came up with best practices and set the framework for how they would actually develop the plan through what is now Skyward.
Onward with Skyward
In 2014, they kicked off the planning process.
“The master architect of the planning process was Kara,” says Scheyer, referring to Kara Clark Williams, then vice president of strategic initiatives and communication for Vision 2015, and now founder of the marketing and planning strategy firm, Shoestring Strategies. “She absolutely was the person whose brains spewed out the entire process of how we would go through this planning process.”
The planning process, called myNKY, set a goal of getting 10,000 inputs — opinions, ideas and suggestions — from surveys throughout all nine counties in Northern Kentucky in a proportional way so that the crux of it wasn’t located strictly in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties. It also represented a broad range of age groups, including high school students, college students and the seniors.
“We also wanted to capture socioeconomic status,” says Scheyer. “One of the things we did is provide iPads to people at Brighton Center and when they went out on client visits they would collect the opinions and input from their clients who might otherwise not participate — so that every voice was heard.”
When it was all said and done, they exceeded that goal and ended up with nearly 16,000 inputs that were proportionally spread throughout the nine counties.
Having collected the information they then went through a very intentional process of setting priorities, says Scheyer.
Casting a wide net for information
“One of the reasons we got so many ideas and suggestions was that we did social media, email blasts, were on television and radio, and went out and spoke to lots of groups,” says Scheyer.
They got in front of not only traditional groups like the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Tri-Ed, but also neighborhood associations, police chief’s associations, and fire chief’s associations. They also created focus groups, inviting influential community members, as well as five or six people from their immediate circles of influence, to meet them for small breakfasts and share their input.
“We really covered the gamut,” says Scheyer. “From the breadth and depth in the community, this plan truly reflects the priorities and desires of the Northern Kentucky community, both at the grassroots level and at the community leadership level, so there’s great integration between the two.”
They set up nine working groups, focusing on five focus areas in the community: Jobs, transportation, housing, education and health. In the course of the direct outreach to organizations throughout the community, Scheyer says four other topics emerged that people clearly cared out: Arts, culture and tourism, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and effective governance.
Within the working groups consisted of anywhere from ten to twenty people and were co-chaired by a member of the leadership team as well as an expert in the field they were focusing on.
They asked the members to bring their own expertise to the table and come up with a standardized report that laid out the priorities in the topical areas — the key issues and the top priorities and some suggested strategies. Their deadline was six weeks.
“They said, “They’ll never get it done, it’s going to take them at least 60 days, maybe 90,”” says Scheyer. “Our viewpoint was that we like to get things done on schedule so let’s just kick it in gear. ”
All nine reports were back in record time.
“And they were great reports,” says Scheyer.
He believes the overall process, which was multi-dimensional and intentional, resulted in the most deeply grounded plan relating to the community’s desires, vision and priorities.
Identifying priorities, setting plan in motion
Emerging as the top four priorities were education, jobs, health, and community vibrancy.
Within those priorities, there are specific goals, such as seeing 1000 more Northern Kentucky children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn and exceed; 20,000 more adults who can rate their health as very good or excellent; and, with regard to jobs, to see to it that all of the companies in Northern Kentucky can fill all open positions as well as the ones that will ultimately be created, and make sure that people have jobs that match their unique passions and skill sets. Community vibrancy, which would further the current momentum of urban revitalization, will also look to using public art as a connecting point for the nine Northern Kentucky counties, establishing a shared identity.
With the information in hand, Skyward was set to move onward and begin make progress. Early results show that they’re on the right track.
Only one year into implementation, the kindergarten readiness program, Pre-K Works, a pilot project in the Erlanger-Elsmere School District increased the number of three and four-year-olds in a high-quality preschool by 134 percent. In population health they have the first five community coalitions running — three urban, one suburban and one rural coalition, designed to help the residents in the respective communities improve their health. Workforce Development Coalition is on track, with Advanced Manufacturing doing well.
All efforts are partnerships through numerous organizations while Skyward’s role is to bring the partnerships together and keep progress on track.
Scheyer reflects that exceeding the initial input goal may well speak to the enthusiasm throughout the community to get things done, hence the evidence of early success in the myNKY plan’s first year.
Investing in the vision
Key to continued success is the supporting the vision.
The One Vision One Voice campaign is built on strong leadership, with co-chairs, Mer Grayson and Bill Robinson at the helm. Additional campaign leadership includes Rich Boehne, president & CEO, E.W. Scripps Company; Garren Colvin president and CEO St. Elizabeth Healthcare; Kay Geiger, regional president, PNC Bank; Jim Henning, president, Duke Energy Ohio and Kentucky; and Chuck Scheper,chairman, Bexion Pharmaceuticals.
The campaign includes 40 people from an array of sectors who have volunteered their time to work in the fundraising trenches, making calls and helping with fundraising efforts. The funds raised will be the backbone of Skyward’s efforts to implement the myNKY plan.
Investments in the campaign will support key projects and initiatives that will be launched or expanded over the next five years, including LiveWell NKY, NKY FAME, the Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development Coalition, and Pre-K Works.
For those who might ask why support the campaign and get involved in the initiatives, Scheyer explains that the plans between the two organizations — Skyward and Tri-Ed — once accomplished, will benefit everyone.
Ideally, he says, they want more companies and individuals to become part of the program, working together to accomplish goals for the region.
And, as evidenced by the impressive community for myNKY, casting that wide net to move Northern Kentucky forward results in momentum and progress in the right direction.