The sky's the limit for myNKY

When the leaders of Vision 2015, Northern Kentucky’s community planning organization, started to consider an updated vision for the region’s next five years, they reached out to residents and businesses. Working together, how could they elevate the conversation and accelerate the implementation process? What did the community aspire to be?

More than 15,000 responses and ideas later, the “myNKY” plan has distilled community input into a five-year playbook for achieving long-term prosperity. The input also helped leaders decide on a new name for their organization: Skyward.

“We could have chosen Vision 2020 to implement this next five-year plan, but we didn’t want to get trapped into continuous name updates and changes,” Vision 2015/Skyward President William Scheyer says. “We had an intuitive response to the name Skyward because of the feelings around ‘elevating’ the community and ‘looking up’ to the future. It’s aspirational and yet practical — exactly how we see the myNKY plan.”
More than 15,000 ideas from public engagement formed the myNKY plan
The name change and plan are being introduced to Northern Kentuckians throughout the summer. The next public event is July 28, hosted by Northern Kentucky Forum at NKU’s Griffin Hall Digitorium, and admission is free.

The full myNKY plan is available online here, while Skyward can be accessed online here. The four myNKY focus areas are represented by NKY Thrives’ Focus links in the pull-down menu at the top of every page; NKY Thrives is a joint communication venture between Skyward and Northern Kentucky Tri-ED.

Four goals, one future

Northern Kentucky’s vision for the future is that all children are prepared for kindergarten, all residents lead healthy lives, all businesses have the talent and tools they need to succeed and all neighborhoods are vibrant, inclusive, creative and connected. In order to reach this collective vision, the myNKY plan focuses on four main goals.

Jobs: Increase the Northern Kentucky Labor Market Index by 5%
The Northern Kentucky Labor Market Index includes the number of jobs, the unemployment rate, the average annual wage per job and the size of the civilian labor force, all indexed to the overall U.S. labor market. Thus myNKY’s goal is for the Northern Kentucky labor market to outperform the national job creation numbers over the next five years.

The plan is to:
   • Cultivate an environment that facilitates innovation, entrepreneurial success and business expansion
   • Develop a long-term comprehensive pipeline approach to employment in key industry sectors and connect people with their purpose through training and education
   • Implement short-term strategies to fill deficits in the labor market
   • And construct and support predictable, frequent, identifiable and efficient public transit corridors

Signature programs and partners include the Regional Indicators Report, a partnership with Agenda 360 that measures Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky against 11 peer cities in jobs and livability categories, and an Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development Coalition to help manufacturing industries recruit highly skilled, qualified workers.

Education: Prepare 1,000 more children for kindergarten
Providing children with a high-quality environment helps them learn, grow and develop and also leads to proven economic returns of $4-$9 for every public dollar invested in child education before the age of 5. Currently, approximately 53% (2,840) of children in Northern Kentucky are prepared for kindergarten success.

The plan is to:
   • Implement “Pre-K Works,” a program ensuring high-quality preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds
   • Expand the number of high quality childcare providers in order to meet new-found demand
   • Support legislation and funding mechanisms to expand early childhood education

The signature program is Pre-K Works, co-convened by Skyward and Success by Six to provide universal access to high-quality preschool for all children ages 3 and 4. A demonstration site will roll out in the 2015-16 school year in the Erlanger-Elsmere School District.

Health: Move an additional 20,000 adults into “excellent” or “very good” health status
Kentucky is ranked 47th out of 50 states in overall health, so it’s critical to promote healthy behaviors such as active lifestyles, proper nutrition and smoking cessation. Currently half of Northern Kentucky adults rate their health status as “excellent” or “very good,” and myNKY’s goal is to increase those categories by 9%.

The plan is to:
• Implement LiveWell NKY, a program designating local residents, organizations and communities as “LiveWell” ambassadors by achieving health goals in exercise, nutrition, and smoking cessation
• Implement SmokeFree NKY, a program dedicated to reducing the number of smokers in Northern Kentucky as well as eliminating second-hand smoke exposure in public places
• Increase regional access to mental health and substance abuse services

The signature program, LiveWell NKY, will support policies, systems and environments through best practices to affect positive change in healthy eating, active lifestyles and tobacco-free environments. LiveWell will provide technical assistance throughout the change process, complementing web-based technology and community-wide campaign.

Vibrancy: Assemble $5 million to foster inclusive, creative and connected communities
By using public art and public spaces, myNKY is hoping to write a fresh chapter about the people who call Northern Kentucky home. Utilizing creative placemaking will ensure an ever-evolving region and contribute to a more robust economy by creating jobs supported by the arts.

The plan is to:
• Develop a public space that brings Northern Kentucky community members together to interact and connect in a sustainable, healthy and inclusive setting
• Utilize public art and projects as a distinctive feature of our region
• Implement a pre-development fund to accelerate redevelopment in the urban core

The signature program will a high-profile new public space built somewhere in Northern Kentucky to connect residents and to provide another iconic destination for the region. Scheyer says one of Skyward’s first tasks is to start talks about funding and designing the new space.

How 15,000 ideas became one plan

Last year, as Vision 2015’s 10-year mission was coming to an end, Scheyer and his leadership team — headed by retired NKU President James Votruba and entrepreneur/investor A.J. Schaeffer — embarked on a wide-ranging conversation with the nine-county Northern Kentucky region. It was unlike anything the group had tried before.

“We wanted the process to be intentional and deep,” Scheyer says. “We wanted the ideas to be representative of all ages and demographics and all nine counties. And we wanted to use multiple channels — websites, face-to-face meetings, focus groups — in order to reach people who normally don’t participate in surveys.”
An online game helped the public rank priorities
The outreach included traditional media (TV, radio, newspaper interviews); social media polling and promotion (email blasts, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube); community presentations; promotional events; and an online myNKY game that asked participants to rank community priorities.

The campaign ended up generating 15,000 distinct ideas in six months, well more than Scheyer and his team anticipated. The effort won a first place award from the Public Relations Society of America’s Cincinnati chapter for best nonprofit public relations campaign in 2014.

Nine working groups were established to discuss and prioritize the public input, organized around arts, culture and tourism; diversity and inclusion; education; governance; health; housing; jobs; sustainability; and transportation. More than 200 individuals served on the working groups and eventually whittled down the priorities into myNKY’s four focus areas.

“What I’m happiest about is you can trace our focus areas directly back to the public’s priorities expressed in those 15,000 ideas and also trace them to what the local planning experts had been suggesting,” Scheyer says. “So I’m confident we’re all on the same page with myNKY. It was one of the best information-gathering processes I’ve ever seen.”

A vision for the future built on strong foundations

The myNKY vision is the latest in a continual series of community plans for Northern Kentucky.

The region’s first plan was organized in 1981, “Northern Kentucky’s Future: Plans, Projects, Potential.” Chaired by Corporex’s Bill Butler and Northern Kentucky Homebuilders Association founder Gordon Martin, the effort helped build the existing Covington skyline and created Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, the area's economic development engine.

The Quest Vision came in 1995, resulting in a number of initiatives that helped strengthen the reach and scope of Northern Kentucky University and Gateway Community & Technical College.

Vision 2015 followed in 2005 and drove such innovative projects as the Northern Kentucky Education Council, The Catalytic Fund, UpTech business accelerator, Green Umbrella sustainability alliance and the Licking River Greenway and Trails.

Votruba’s successor as NKU President, Geoffrey Mearns, and Fort Mitchell City Administrator Sharmili Reddy co-chair the myNKU implementation roll-out. Scheyer and his Skyward staff will be ensuring that the public is involved at every step and all results are measured against the four priorities.

In other words, they’ll be “elevating” the Northern Kentucky community — and the sky’s the limit.

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