Fast Company Founder to Gainesville: 'What's Next?'

By Caitlyn Finnegan

When asked about what communities can do today to better prepare their economies for the future, Alan Webber, one of the founders of the innovation-focused business magazine Fast Company, likes to make a few things clear. First off, change is imminent, so be ready for a new type of “business as usual.”

“If you want to find out what’s next, find out what’s working,” Webber said.

Then there’s the need for a new way of approaching an increasingly complex global economy. For Webber, that means cities should be focusing on becoming globally competitive, stay at the forefront of digital technology, accept differing perspectives as the torch is passed from one generation to the next and embrace diversity in the workplace.

“The future is here,” Webber said. “What we have to do is have the best eyesight to see it better than anyone else and adapt to it.”

During the Innovation + Strategy forum hosted by the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday night, Webber and CRA Director Michael Lyons led a discussion centered around the question of “what’s next?”

As Gainesville and Alachua County sit poised to take on another burst of economic growth, community leaders are searching for the best strategies to take advantage of the current momentum and keep moving forward.

Held in the historic train Depot Building, the meeting’s location was a nod to what the community could achieve through collaboration, Lyons said. Recent renovations have helped to transform the once decaying building into a mixed-use setting that is slated to house a restaurant, cafe and a flexible space for events; all important factors for bringing continued growth to the Depot Avenue area.

For the discussion, Webber urged the audience to think about the need for a unified community vision of a standard measure of success. Currently, the CRA is working in four areas of Gainesville’s urban core — the Eastside, Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street, Downtown and College Park/University Heights — but Webber thinks Gainesville shouldn’t stop there.

“You can’t create an innovation community just to create an innovation community,” Webber said. “You have to play for a bigger game and have a bigger definition of success in mind.”

To best master the transition, Webber said the community will have to master disruptions and sort out the old ways of providing value. Don’t try to be the next Austin or Boulder, just be Gainesville, Webber said.

“I think every community should determine its own differentiators,” Webber said. “Greatness is your definition of greatness. Know why you are great and make that your calling card.”

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