2016-07-01 / Front Page

Enjoy a seat on Main Street

Elaina Dove (l) and Melissa Drake try out the new table and chairs on Main Street. Elaina Dove (l) and Melissa Drake try out the new table and chairs on Main Street. Midlands residents will soon be able to grab a seat on S.C.’s Main Street thanks to “What’s Next Midlands,” a social innovation program launched by EngenuitySC with funding from Central Carolina Community Foundation and local investors. Developed to crowd-source, fund, and implement ideas to improve quality of life in Richland and Lexington Counties, What’s Next Midlands will launch its inaugural project—moveable public seating on Main Street in downtown Columbia at Soda City Market July 2, 2016, and at First Thursday on Main on July 7, 2016. Ideas for future projects to be funded are being accepted now at www.WhatsNextMidlands.org.

What is “What’s Next Midlands?”

Collect. Select. Fund. Do.

Part of an ongoing, cooperative effort between regional entities to increase connectedness in our communities, What’s Next Midlands is a collaborative regional improvement program focused on helping people with great ideas connect with the community, the capital, the support, and the volunteers they need to turn those ideas into reality.

The four phases of each project cycle are idea collection, project selection, funding and execution. Launched in July 2015, the program is funded by a $34,000 Connected Communities Grant from Central Carolina Community Foundation, the Midlands’ expert on philanthropy, and managed by EngenuitySC, an economic development nonprofit focused on enhancing our region’s competitiveness and prosperity.

“What’s Next Midlands provides a website where anyone in the region can submit their idea to improve or change this community in 150 characters or less,” notes Meghan Hickman, executive director of EngenuitySC. “The ideas can be broad or specific. It’s a catch- all for wonderful ideas to inspire an increased sense of ownership among residents and create a more connected community.”

New Tables and Chairs for the Public to Enjoy on S.C.’s Main Street

Eight metal tables and 16 matching chairs, painted in bright blues, teals, and greens, will be placed in sets along Main Street for public use. In phase one of the plan’s implementation, the chairs will provide temporary seating during community events and high traffic days. They will be removed when the events conclude, thanks to volunteers from Columbia Opportunity Resource (COR) and the City Center Partnership (CCP) “yellow shirt” team. In phase two, the tables and chairs will be set up in the morning and removed in the evening on a more regular basis by CCP staff. The ongoing care and management of the moveable seating project will be managed by CCP.

Chosen from a total of 402 ideas submitted by the public at www.WhatsNextMidlands.org, the moveable seating project is an effort to address demand for free, public outdoor seating on Columbia’s increasingly popular Main Street.

“ With thousands of people enjoying Main Street each week, bringing their families downtown, meeting up with friends and patronizing home-grown food vendors, they need a place to relax, eat, people-watch and socialize,” notes Hickman. “We are excited to roll out the moveable seating project as the first of many What’s Next Midlands projects.” Hickman adds, “From an investor standpoint, What’s Next Midlands provides a gratifying, immediate amplification of charitable dollars at an affordable level of buy-in, leveraged via projects that make the Midlands a better place to live.”

What’s Next Midlands will be accepting investors for the 2016-2017 fiscal year starting July 1, 2016. A second, as-yet-unnamed project that is being funded and implemented will be announced in August 2016.

How to Build a More Connected Community

Inspiration for the initiative has been drawn from many sources, chief among them the concepts behind Central Carolina Community Foundation’s Connected Communities grant program, which seeks to address three focus areas, identified by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup as the three most important elements for an attractive community:

• Welcoming Community, which supports open and inclusive activities and programs

• Vibrant Social Offerings, which support the availability of community events and arts and culture opportunities

• Superb Public Spaces, which enhance the beauty and physical setting of the Midlands community

“After witnessing the incredible success that has resulted from the first round of Connected Communities grants, including What’s Next Midlands, we are even more energized to work with our community partners on initiatives that will help our region become more vibrant and connected,” notes JoAnn Turnquist, president and CEO of Central Carolina Community Foundation. “This is just the beginning.”

What’s Next Midlands: How It Works

Through social media platform development and engagement with nearly 600 followers; community engagement with more than 950 people and event presence at 17 community events; 13 focus groups with a combined 120 folks and 323 hours of idea generation and more, What’s Next Midlands began collecting ideas—and hosting those ideas, along with self-submitted ideas—on the locally-built website www.WhatsNextMidlands.com.

In four weeks in the spring of 2016, What’s Next Midlands collected 402 ideas from 634 users with 152 comments, doubling the initial goal of garnering 200 community improvement ideas.

EngenuitySC, COR and Junior League were the first organizations to commit to funding What's Next Midlands for two years, while Free Times signed on as a media partner. These organizations, plus KRIT and Evolution Partners, made up the management team, which narrowed the top 20 publicly vetted ideas to eight, based on regional impact; viability and feasibility; time frame; budget (must be under $10,000); logistics; potential for partnership opportunities; interactivity; accessibility and more.

Twenty-one investors from various backgrounds—including young, next generation leaders, influencers from the arts community, local church leaders, startup community forerunners, owners of creative firms and other movers and shakers—entered the project at various stages and investment levels, starting at $250, raising a total of $15,250. They served as program leaders, hosting idea-generation sessions for colleagues, friends and other local groups. The investors voted in the final rounds of project selection to narrow down the final eight ideas to two.

Moving Forward

What’s Next Midlands will begin actively collecting and publicly vetting ideas for the 2016-2017 fiscal year on July 1, 2016 at www.WhatsNextMidlands.org. The program aims to complete one project per quarter during its second year.

About EngenuitySC

Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., EngenuitySC is an economic development nonprofit focused on enhancing our region’s competitiveness and prosperity. In partnership with business, government, education, and community leaders, EngenuitySC specializes in regional collaboration and project management, the activation of local industry clusters and regional research, analysis and marketing. For more information, visit www.engenuitysc.com.


Twitter: @EngenuitySC

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