By Matt Goodman
Killeen Daily Herald
The Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce organized a group three years ago to unravel the spider web of possibilities that could draw new talent to town and keep it there. It's the Creation of Place Design Team, a ten-person committee that operates just below the public radar.
The committee combined to write a series of "white papers" over the last year that detail a plan to attract more young businessmen and women to the area. This so-called "creative class" is believed to carry the economic future of the modern city on their backs.
The group is now discussing how to present that information to the community.
"It's a template for the economic growth of the city of Killeen," said Killeen city planner Beverly Zendt, who also sits on the Chamber committee. "It's not a philosophy, it's a prescription."
Experts say the general formula for a city's future economic survival is fairly simple. Location, or "place," draws talent, which draws money, which creates expansion. Filling in those variables is the difficult part.
Young and hyper local
Timothy Stroud answered the phone around lunchtime Wednesday. The 37-year-old Killeen entrepreneur agreed to meet and suggested a privately owned coffee shop on the southeast side of town as the venue. It's much better than that "other place" and the income gets fed back directly into the community, he said.
Stroud is chartering the Killeen Heights Junior Chamber: a satellite group of an organization built for 20 to 41 year-olds - Stroud jokes about "just making the cut" - to network and be active in the community.
If there's one thing to take away from a conversation with the man, it's that he's dedicated to his region. Stroud supports much of what he says with analogies, jokes and references to regional faces and places. He exudes energy as he discusses his goal of having 100 members enrolled by 90 days after the group is chartered.
"We like the area, we love the people," he said, referring to himself and his wife. "We get to deal with a lot of Killeenites, so we decided to roll up our sleeves and get involved with the community."
The Junior Chamber - its members are called Jaycees - is a nonprofit organization that has been active for more than 86 years and is present in cities across the United States. Stroud, who returned home from his deployment in Iraq as a medic and stayed put, said he saw the opportunity to further mobilize young people in the region and jumped on it.
"I would have loved it if someone else would've grabbed the torch and ran with it," he said, "but it didn't turn out that way."
This kind of motivation and regional responsibility is what the Creation of Place Design Team's "White Papers" hope to emphasize. The Killeen Heights Junior Chamber will overlap with the Killeen Chamber-sanctioned Young Professionals group. But Stroud's presence in Killeen is indicative of a new way of thinking that the Creation of Place Design Team hopes will sink into Killeen young people's mindsets: the belief that this city has much to offer in terms of diversity and opportunity.
"A characteristic of this generational group is that they are involved in community oriented causes," said Thad Byars, vice president of membership at the Killeen Chamber. "It's up to us as a community to grasp that and help lead them along those ways because that's everything that every community needs."
The Creation of Place Design Team wrote the "White Papers" after extensively studying what propels a modern economy. The committee pored over books - Byars names Rebecca Ryan's "Live First, Work Second" and Richard Florida's "The Rise of the Creative Class" as two major influences - and paid for a consulting firm to conduct an extensive study in June 2009.
That study would turn into a 41-page summary entitled "Talent 2030: How Central Texas Can Retain and Attract Its Future Workforce."
"Our strategy, just as it should be for any community that wants to survive and prosper in the future, is to proactively create a place where talent wants to reside," reads a statement in one of the first pages of the group's "White Papers."
The rest of the information extends from this point: what can Killeen do as a community to foster interest and gain additional talent?
For one, the group believes Killeen must take advantage of opportunities in the region. There are spots for higher learning - Texas A&M University-Central Texas is now located in Killeen - as well as a large independent school district. The "White Papers" argue that these avenues will attract young talent and families to stay in the community.
"This community is graced by a number and variety of educational institutions," the report reads. "Independent school districts, charter schools, private schools, Montessori, workforce, Central Texas College, Temple College, University of Mary-Hardin Baylor and Texas A&M - Central Texas."
The report argues the need for Killeen to establish its identity and authenticity to create a better sense of place.
Renovate the historical markers in town, the report suggests. It mentions the apparent need to promote the arts and create a scene for residents to get involved. The group hopes the city would advertise the town's older neighborhoods that have more personality and interesting architecture. New talent, the report reads, is attracted to a city that respects itself and promotes what makes it stick out in the crowd.
Perhaps the largest draw is the "third place," which is defined as any place where an individual spends time that isn't work or home. Ryan's book that Byars mentioned, "Live First, Work Second" stresses that the creative class is often finding a location first and then a job. The city should build around that idea, Byars said.
Killeen is the 9th fastest growing city that has a population of more than 100,000 in the nation, according to a report released by Baylor in July. This growth is bringing in new neighborhoods and developments, and the Place Design Team plans to urge these developers to consider adding hiking trails and parks.
"There's no reason we can't push for that," said committee member Jonathan Packer, who is the director of marketing and research at the Chamber.
Now that the "White Papers" are complete, the group is deciding how to disseminate the suggestions. These documents don't skimp on detail; the members know that they have information with a heavy narrative on their hands.
The information doesn't assume the reader will be able to define the economic landscape, so it delves into the past by analyzing different trends that drove a city's economy in previous decades.
How the committee chooses to present the information will most likely depend on the audience; a regular citizen will want the information presented differently than what the City Council or a state representative sees.
"We're teachers," said Dr. Ann Farris, who sits on the committee and is the co-director of the Killeen Food Care Center. "If we don't hit the audience the right way then that's our responsibility."
There has also been a split between the city's interest in the group. The organization briefed the council around Winter of 2007 and "lost them," Byars said.
"They kind of don't know where we are," Farris said.
The next meetings will focus on how to take the suggestions from the "White Pages" and build them into a concrete example of what can come of them if addressed correctly by the city. The organization supported creating a well-designed brochure highlighting its points, as well as creating an online reference that the community can access.
But for now, these are just researched ideas intended to address the future of the city.
"We are at this amazing intersection where great things can happen if we take the lead," Farris said. "We need to get to them fast, and soon."
Contact Matt Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (254) 501-7550.