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Leaders set to make case for Columbus as All-America City


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A delegation leaves for Denver on Thursday to make the case for the city of Columbus to receive a 2014 All-America City designation.

The National Civic League selected Columbus as one of 25 finalists for the award, which honors 10 cities with the designation each year.

Mayor Kristen Brown, who will lead the delegation, said the city was pleasantly surprised to be chosen as a finalist.

“We put our application together pretty quickly,” Brown said. “Our expectation really was to understand what the process is and what they were looking for and go at it hard next year. To be where we are, we are delighted.”

Its odds of being one of 10 winners slightly improved recently.

Columbus actually will be competing against 22 other cities because two finalists have been eliminated from consideration.

In its application, Columbus highlighted three projects and used the communitywide strategic plan, Advance Columbus, to provide the framework.

The application focused on Ec015, Economic Opportunities through Education by 2015, the workforce development system led by the Community Education Coalition; the vision for the Columbus Arts District, and the city’s Healthy Communities initiatives.

The city’s presentation will include a 4-minute overview by Brown, followed by 2-minute presentations from community leaders on programs highlighted in the application.

A panel of All-America City judges will then have 10 minutes to ask questions.

In selecting finalists, the National Civic League placed an increased emphasis this year on successful efforts by cities to address underlying conditions that affect communities’ health.

This year’s designation as an All-America City will be about programs that address issues such as obesity, walkable cities, biking, fitness and healthy eating.

Improving health

Columbus Regional Health president and CEO Jim Bickel will give the Healthy Communities presentation, which will focus on the city’s policy, systems and environmental changes designed to encourage wellness.

“Healthy Communities is a longstanding coalition that has done really terrific work and has demonstrated success,” Brown said. “We are appreciative that Jim is going to travel out there with us to demonstrate the commitment.”

The delegation also will include community members, such as Rose Ellen Adams, who are success stories from the city’s initiatives and are able to offer additional insights to the judging panel.

Adams, a foster family developmental specialist, said the emphasis on healthy lifestyle programs in Columbus helped her lose 129 pounds and put many of her health concerns behind her. She ran her first 26.2-mile race in September during the inaugural Mill

Race Marathon.

“Our community is so rich in programming and offers so much to get people back on track and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle,” Adams said. “The People Trails and the bike lanes, as well as the running and cycling clubs and indoor and outdoor recreation options all provide great opportunities to get and stay fit.”

Presenters also are expected to identify the greatest challenges facing their community and highlight programs and initiatives designed to rectify them.

Workforce efforts

Kathy Oren, executive director of the Community Education Coalition, will talk about the obstacles the city has faced with workforce development. Oren said

in the 10-county Ec015 region, based in Columbus, 28 percent of adults have no education beyond high school. In Bartholomew County alone, there are 500 unfilled jobs at any time that require at least some advanced education.

“There is a huge skills gap here and since 1997, the Community Education System has been working to make sure that we have a learning system that is aligned with the needs of our work force,” Oren said. “We are really excited about the opportunity because Columbus has this incredible history of collaboration and we have seen in the education realm that it has really been focused on a workforce initiative.”

Since 2007, Ec015 has focused on creating seamless pathways from middle school to post-secondary education through efforts that include cooperation from area colleges and manufacturing employers.

Arts commitment

The city also will highlight its commitment to the arts and culture, with Arts District Coalition Chair Sherry Stark making that presentation.

“The coalition is like a steering committee that is made up of key players and stakeholders like the Arts Council, IUCA+D, the Visitors Center and the downtown merchants,” Stark said. “In two minutes, it’s really tough to tell the story of the Downtown Arts District because there is so much going on.”

Brown and Chris Schilling, the city’s communications and program coordinator, will represent the city of Columbus.

Corporate and community partners, including Cummins, Columbus Regional Health, LHP and SIHO are contributing toward travel expenses of other members of the 12-person Columbus delegation.

The delegation also includes Erin Hawkins, director of marketing for the Columbus Area Visitors Center, Beth Morris of Columbus Regional Health and Premlata Poonia, a project coordinator at Cummins and a downtown resident.

Brown called the award the “Super Bowl of civic recognition” and said the distinction can be a valuable marketing tool.

“It’s an incredibly visible award which is going to be helpful in marketing Columbus for new businesses, tourism and people who are looking at relocating,” Brown said. “It’s also a great source of community pride.”

Preparations will begin Friday and city presentations will take place over the weekend. The All-American City Award winners will be announced at a ceremony Sunday night.

Columbus received the All-America City designation once, in 1994, which was the last time the city sought the distinction.

Brown is cautiously optimistic about the city’s chances, but said Columbus is already in elite company.

“Just being a finalist is a real badge of honor,” Brown said.

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