When it comes to making a community a success, it helps for its organizations to be on the same page.
That’s why area leaders say it’s critical to Middletown’s future that five groups work at the same time on various stages of a strategic plan not only for their organization, but for the greater good of the community.
Downtown Middletown Inc. began interviewing master planners this time last year and hired one — planning and architecture consultants OHM Advisors — earlier this year to determine how the city’s core should brand itself, and what Middletown people want it to look and feel like in coming years.
While Downtown Middletown is leading the effort, multiple community entities are involved in the process, including the Middletown Community Foundation and the Middletown Visitors Bureau, which gave grants, and the city of Middletown, which provided matching funds to begin the process.
Having a master plan for a city’s downtown district is “outrageously important, extremely important.”
“When you have multiple organizations like mine, where any other entity that would be doing work downtown, you want to make sure that everyone is on the same page,” she said. “We all have limited resources and if we can all agree on where we’re going, then we can make sure that all of our dollars and all of our efforts are working toward the same plan.”
All master plan information is being posted to the public at www.downtownmiddletown2016.com.
“The community decided on who the master planner was, which I think is a very important component of it because often times these happen kind of within the city walls and they’re not necessarily out and open to the public,” Greenham said. “We’ve done our best to be transparent and include as many people as possible in the process.”
The master plan “should be wrapping up in November,” Greenham said.
“Obviously, the big thing is once the plan is completed, it needs to go to city council to be adopted as an official working document,” she said.
Another strategic plan being worked out came from the Strategic Planning Committee of the Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe & Trenton, which with the help of its members and the Board of Directors introduced members and stakeholders earlier this year to four focus areas: Advocacy/Government Relations, Education/Career Path, Leadership/Influence and Regional Business Catalyst.
Rick Pearce, president/CEO of the chamber, said work on the plan stretches back to a little more than a year prior, when board members during an annual retreat suggested breaking into smaller groups to develop a strategic plan.
Having such a plan “keeps us focused,” Pearce said.
Some of the impetus for the chamber’s plan, he said, came from his involvement with the Middletown Community Foundation’s READY Campaign, the main objective of which is to adequately prepare children in the area to enter the educational pipeline ready to succeed and prepare them for their future. Started in 2011 and completed in 2013, the planning process involved roughly 100 stakeholders from its service area identifying the needs and developing a plan.
Launched in 2013, the fundraising phase of the plan has netted $3 million of the nearly $5 million initiative aimed at improving the education performance in Middletown, Monroe, Trenton, Madison and Franklin, according to T. Duane Gordon, executive director and CEO/done and over middle of fundraising process.
Several of the initiatives the foundation will be funding over a 5-year period started in recent weeks with funding raised until this point, Gordon said.
“It’s primarily by targeting deficiencies in the community from birth to age 5 to get kids prepared for kindergarten, but there is also a smaller piece that works on helping kids prepare for what happens after high school, be it college, the workforce or some type of vocational training,” he said.
Having a strategic plan is important, Gordon said, because it shows an organization that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”
“Going through the strategic planning process helps an organization and the community that it represents to understand what the needs are and how they can best address those needs in the community as aligned with their mission,” he said. “Our strategic planning process not only shifted our focus from simply responding to community needs through grant applications.
“People submit to us to actively seeking out programs to create systemic change of a community and funding those directly as a proactive attempt to improve quality of life throughout our community.”
Also developing a strategic plan is Middletown Moving Forward, Middletown’s Community Improvement Corporation, which was created to capitalize on economic development opportunities for Middletown. Individuals from that group have been meeting since 2015 following a 2014 visit to Greenville, S.C., to learn how it transformed the community and successfully reinvented itself over three decades.
The individuals returned from Greenville and partnered with the Community Building Institute Middletown to conduct the What If Middletown Community Vision. The group plans to report its findings to the community in the coming months.
Another major community player, Middletown City Schools, in April brought together a group of community stakeholders, teachers and school administrators to create a strategic plan for the schools.
The strategic plan will include a prioritized timeline for accomplishing the agreed-to goals of the committee and district officials and eventually include goals in five areas: student achievement; instructional excellence; valuing diversity; communications and community engagement and student and family wellness
Pearce said it’s “a unique time” in Middletown’s history because so many impactful organizations have put a call out to their stakeholders and community to develop a strategic plan that will lead each organization and the community at large in the years to come.
“It’s been a long time since any of these organizations have done this,” he said. “I think it just shows that organizations took a step back and re-evaluated their purpose and their role and how they can improve their own organization and at the same time improve the community they operate in.”
Because of this influx of strategic planning and thinking, many participants in the strategic planning process are “extremely optimistic” about Middletown’s future,” Pearce said.
“As a participant in almost all the sessions (of each aforementioned group), I can say that there is a great deal of crossover in each organization’s findings,” he said. “Individuals who have no reason to communicate outside their group are coming to the same conclusion on many of the same topics.”