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April 25, 2018 | Tom Ballard

PART 1: Event four years ago inspiration for Connect Knox initiative

Connect Knox 2(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series describing the evolution of an organization called Connect Knox and its focus on the future of the community.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Nearly four years ago, a delegation of Knoxville business and community leaders traveled to Nashville to attend the “CEOs for Cities” annual conference.

The group, led by Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, had a single purpose: to better understand how the national organization’s model of building stronger communities through inclusion and collaboration might be adopted locally.

Fast forward to today, and Connect Knox is the initiative that grew out of that 2014 conference and subsequent work by a number of people under the auspices of Leadership Knoxville (LK).

Connect Knox’s most publicly visible effort to date was the February 15 presentation by Thomas Friedman, the distinguished author and winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, to about 700 people at the Knoxville Convention Center (see our article here.)

While that event might have been the first awareness of Connect Knox for many local citizens, there has been considerable work underway since the delegation returned to Knoxville after the 2014 conference.

“Laurens Tullock is the brainchild for Connect Knox,” Kristy Altman, the initiative’s Director, told us during a recent interview. At the time of the conference, Tullock was President of the Cornerstone Foundation of Knoxville that was focused on being a catalyst to help the Greater Knoxville area reach its full potential as a community.

“A cross-generational and demographically diverse group was pulled together after the event,” Altman said. “It was named the Community Connectors.”

That group met over the next couple of years, exploring a number of topics before deciding to recommend to the LK board of directors that they move forward under the Connect Knox brand. The proposal was approved, and things kicked into higher gear.

Altman, who has been involved in a number of non-profit initiatives, came on board about a year ago as Connect Knox was officially launched, and John Tolsma, a local business executive, took the role of chairing the steering committee.

“We identified and invited 43 people from all sectors of the community to join the steering committee, and everyone we asked agreed,” Altman said.

Last August, that group met to receive the results of a community-wide assessment conducted by Survature, a local start-up that utilizes data science to reveal the true priorities of individuals.

Altman said the information gleaned from Survature’s work was just one part of the Connect Knox data collection effort. The group also worked local organizations – Metropolitan Planning Commission, Knoxville Chamber, and Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville – and the Thriving Cities Group at the University of Virginia.

All that input was considered in a two-day retreat for the steering committee that resulted in a “State of Knoxville” report that helped establish Connect Knox’s initial major project.

NEXT: The inaugural project selected by the Connect Knox steering committee and two important ways that the initiative will be moving forward.