Louisville is considered one of the top cities to reside in, and that is not without the efforts of organization and passionate citizens making a difference. I caught up with Christen Boone, director of the Greater Louisville Project, and found out how the Greater Louisville Project is creating lasting positive changes in our city.
Lori Kommor: The Greater Louisville Project has been working for over a decade to make Louisville a top tier American city. Tell us a little about how the organization does this.
Christen Boone: The Greater Louisville Project (GLP) is a non-partisan civic initiative organized and supported by a consortium of philanthropic foundations. Its mission is to act as a catalyst by providing research and data analysis to engage the community in a shared agenda for long-term progress. Each year, the GLP publishes the Competitive City Report tracking progress on three deep drivers of change: education, 21st century jobs and quality of place, and comparing Louisville to peer cities. The Deep Drivers of Change are a few big, but attainable, goals that can inform our civic agenda by highlighting both the possibilities and the challenges facing Louisville.
LK: What are the highlights of the 2012 Competitive City Report?
CB: For the first time, Louisville produced and/or attracted similar numbers of educated young adults as perennial top tier cities Charlotte and Columbus. In fact, Louisville ranked first among its 15 peer cities in the percentage increase over the last 10 years in young adults – those aged 25-34 – with bachelor’s degrees or higher. Louisville is generally reversing a 20-year trend of losing young people, whether they hold degrees or not. After many years of concern about our brain drain, this data suggests that Louisville has turned an important corner, and our brain drain may be becoming a “brain gain.”
LK: The city is also facing some challenges, correct?
CB: While we may be reversing the brain drain, we are not matching those employable young people with the higher-wage jobs they need to stay here. From 1980-2010, real wages in Louisville grew only 17 percent, ranking us 14th – second from the bottom – among our peer cities. During that same period, leaders like Raleigh and Charlotte grew real wages by nearly 50 percent. We used to think that we would grow jobs to attract talent, and it now appears that we may be facing the opposite dilemma: we may be attracting talent before we have the jobs to retain it.
LK: How does some of this information dovetail with other civic and community programs going on in Louisville currently?
CB: While we had the highest rate of improvement among peers in the percentage of young adults with degrees, this fact remains clouded by the persistent gap in college attainment rates by race and ethnicity. Just 16.5 percent of African Americans hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 33 percent of white residents. Community initiatives such as 55,000 Degrees and 15K have set aggressive goals to make improvements in this area.
LK: In light of the new report, what do you consider your next steps as director of the Greater Louisville Project?
CB: I am excited to get out into the community and meet with civic organizations, corporate leaders and neighborhood groups to listen, learn and share the findings of our recent report. A shared vocabulary around the deep drivers of change can catalyze greater civic action through rich community discussion and engagement.