What to Expect from the CEOs for Cities 2014 National Meeting in Nashville

An interview with Lee Fisher, CEO of CEOs for Cities

By Matt Carmichael on October 30, 2014 at 12:20 pm CDT


Although everyone defines the world livable a little differently, to me it’s a city that’s connected, innovative, talented and distinctive.

Lee Fisher, President and CEO, CEOs for Cities

Next week, 400 leaders from 75 cities will gather in Nashville to steal ideas from one another. The facilitator of this gathering is the organization CEOs for Cities . Many attendees will be representing cities that have formed City Clusters – cross-sector teams that join (for a fee) the CEOs for Cities organization as a group. These clusters help ensure that attendees can maximize value for their cities, according to Lee Fisher, president and CEO of the organization.

“Most conferences that most people go to, they’re one of just a handful of people from their city, and often they don’t even know the others are there. They don’t come together, they don’t talk when they’re there or after. We believe that you’re much more likely to gain something value if you come together as a team,” he says.

At the conference, CEOs for Cities will announce a new challenge grant: Clusters will be challenged to create one goal and a toolkit to achieve that goal. The city that creates the most innovative goal and toolkit will win the prize. Similarly, they just awarded $1 million to Akron, Ohio in an open competition among the nation’s largest metro areas. According to CEOs for Cities research , Akron “produced 2,139 additional postsecondary degrees over the past three years, for an impressive 20 percent increase, the largest increase among the competing 57 U.S. regions.”

Livability talked with Mr. Fisher about his organization and what we can expect at the conference.

Livability: Tell us a little about your organization.

Fisher: We are a national nonprofit founded 15 years ago by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Paul Grogan, who is the current CEO of the Boston Foundation. Our name is a bit misleading. We’re not just CEOs. We don’t care about rank. What we care about is whether you’re a leader committed to your city’s success.

Our mission is to research and share the smartest research and practices for making cities successful. We connect cross-sector leaders with each other and with ideas and provide a framework for moving the needle on important goals.

Livability: What will we be talking about at the conference?

Fisher: The theme is “city dividends.” We have developed a concept, which is basically the return on investment for achieving a measurable goal for your cities economic growth and success. We have found that there is great power in small wins. The best way to motivate and sustain action in your city is to have goals that are achievable and measurable, and mobilize cross-sector leaders in achieving those goals. We call them city dividends. We’ll be looking at this in four different ways. One of our signature pieces of research is called “City Vitals,” and we say there are four dimensions of city success, and they are easy to remember because they spell out “City:” The Connected city, the Innovative city, the Talented city and Your distinctive city.

Livability: Why do you think it’s important for businesses and city leaders to work together like this?

Fisher: If you’re an employer in your city, the things that should be more important to you is being able to recruit a talented and skilled workforce. It should be a priority to have that workforce inside your city not outside. It makes your business far more likely to succeed if you could easily recruit talented, skilled people in your own city. To do that, you can’t just focus on yourself, you have to focus on the city as a whole because it’s a rising tide that lifts all boats.

No city in America lacks talent. But almost every city in America lacks a vehicle for connecting with talent and ideas outside their own city, which is why we exist. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we help cities learn from what other cities are doing.

Livability: Can your organization become an advocate for creating better cross-city metrics that cities can use to evaluate success?

Fisher: One of the panels will be: how do you measure what makes your city successful and learn what other cities are doing and how they’re measuring success?

Livability: It sounds like a lot of what you’re talking about is the importance of livability to attracting talent and business investment.

Fisher: I would argue that if you add the four components of CITY success, it equals making a livable city. A livable city is a good proxy for what every city needs to be. Although everyone defines the word livable a little differently, to me it’s a city that’s connected, innovative, talented and distinctive. It’s all about livability.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Matt Carmichael is a contributing editor and former editor-in-chief of Livability.com. He is a recognized authority on demographics, consumer trends, economic development and best places to live.

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