Working toward vibrancy means measuring outcomes and building the skills of our businesses

(Note: This column appears in the August 2020 edition of Great Seal Living.)

March 10 seems like a lifetime ago.

The Chillicothe Ross Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting featured community development specialist Quint Studer, who joined us for three days to see Chillicothe first-hand and give us some guidance on how to keep Chillicothe moving toward vibrancy.

It was a great few days, and Quint left us much impressed with what we’ve done here, but also with a series of recommendations on how to improve things even more. We are poised for bigger, better things.

Then, as we all know, COVID-19 and its impact hit the nation – not just Ross County, but the United States. Businesses closed. Students stayed home. Everything just stopped, including our efforts to push toward a more vibrant Chillicothe and Ross County.

Now, we’re focused on how we safely re-open and begin life in a new reality. It’s also time to start talking about how we resume building Chillicothe into a healthy community.

The good news is that we’ve been here before. Fifteen years ago, Chillicothe was struggling. Its reputation was seedy, people were out of jobs, downtown was a mess, and we seemed to be in our way for the most part.

Our community addressed the myriad of issues with a unified approach on a variety of fronts to help us rise again. Through a concerted effort, the narrative around us changed.

Now, we’re faced with another challenge – bringing our businesses back while looking to the future and how we create a vibrant community while we navigate the new world. To be clear, we’re not perfect, but our willingness to improve and history of prosperity make Chillicothe a great candidate to return to vibrancy.

The first step in that effort is to create the Chillicothe Ross Dashboard to help us track where we are and create a framework to get better. It will hold our leaders accountable for improvement and concisely communicate results.

The dashboard will track data in several key areas that must be addressed to improve conditions for all residents. For example, if we want to tackle graduation rates, we can’t just look at the result. We need to track voluntary pre-K participating and kindergarten readiness. Growing our population is a critical issue for Ross County, and metrics will be measured to determine how we address the flat population growth.

We also need quality market research to help drive critical decisions. For example, the argument regarding constructing a parking garage in downtown is one that has burned on for years, but does it make sense economically? Data will give us the information we need to know whether it’s truly needed and whether it can be afforded.

While Downtown Chillicothe has improved in recent years, there are opportunities to improve. Filling in the gaps created by vacant buildings and analyzing our current downtown living spaces are just two of the challenges. How do we maximize the value of a beautiful green space (Yoctangee Park) next to a thriving business community to create a spot a visitor can spend an entire day getting to know?

Creating a vibrant community means raising civic IQ. We believe by gathering (even virtually) and discussing different ideas, we’ll all gain knowledge, experience, and see things differently. We’re focused on bringing speakers and workshops into Chillicothe that will help raise our IQ and find common ground to improve the community.

Finally, the Chamber wants to up its game in the skill-building area, particularly for our small businesses. For example, we need to create more robust entrepreneurship training to help those with ideas to turn the concept into reality. Customized workforce training will also increase the quality of the labor supply.

We can simultaneously re-open our businesses and plan. We can help our companies to cope with the return to work while assisting them in developing skills to sustain their efforts for years to come. This will happen locally as we partner and work together to make life better for everyone.

For more on Quint Studer, check out his books “Building a Vibrant Community” and “The Busy Leader’s Handbook” or his website at