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Greater Louisville Inc. The Metro Chamber of Commerce 2019 Chamber of the Year
× Greater Louisville Inc. The Metro Chamber of Commerce

Media Center

January 30, 2020 1:08pm

Sarah Davasher-Wisdom Annual Meeting Remarks

This is a big night for GLI. Not only are we celebrating the success of the chamber and our honorees tonight, but the evening marks a change in leadership.

As the first person to hire in a month after Kent, I’ve been able to work with him and execute on the turnaround that led to our Chamber of the Year award.

And now as your new President & CEO, I look forward to working with the board, investors, and staff as we build on our successes. There is much work to be done, and I am grateful the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors have placed their full confidence in me. It’s their dedicated volunteerism that motivates me.  I couldn’t be more humbled or proud to lead GLI going forward.

Fully developing our new strategic plan is my top priority. A 120-member guiding committee is hard at work to better position the Greater Louisville Region for success.  Our consultant TEConomy is facilitating the process and I have been involved with them from the beginning.

It couldn’t come at a more important time.  Louisville has certainly progressed, but comparing ourselves to the past is not as effective as comparing ourselves to peer cities.  Peer cities that are growing much faster in many cases.  A lot of good work has been done, but we must do more, much more.

In July, the McKinsey Global Institute evaluated Louisville’s economy.  The assessment called out Louisville as a “stable city,” one of 36 others “that have posted only modest post-recession GDP and population growth… It is neither thriving nor in distress, but circumstances could tip the balance in either direction.”

To address those circumstances, to take Louisville from stable to incomparable, 7 high level strategies have been identified:

First, we must create a stronger environment for R&D by fostering university-industry engagement.  Forging these strong bonds will create employment opportunities, build out the STEM pipeline for local companies, and enhance awareness of our region.

Second – Louisville must offer full-cycle support for entrepreneurs from every. walk. of life. This is essential for innovation. It is incredibly important for this second strategy that entrepreneurs have the support to go from concept to commercialization quickly. That includes capital, supportive programming, and mentorship.

Third, we must focus economic development on the industry clusters that provide the greatest opportunity for growth in the region.  Globally, we know there are no guarantees that a region’s largest employers will remain locally rooted, but if we foster a cluster mindset, we can differentiate from competitors, target out of state supply chains to move here, and help them address common workforce challenges.

Fourth, we must attract talent. Develop talent. Retain talent. It is possible of course. Louisville attracted me. Louisville developed me, mentored me. Allowed me to grow professionally and personally. Provided a place for me to have a family. To advance my career. I want others to have the opportunities I have and I want people already here to stay here and grow with us.  We can do this by building out our Live in Lou initiative. Our Live in Lou program has already become a best practice nationally and people are coming here to learn about it.

Fifth, we must intentionally support the success of minority enterprises and talent–driving the inclusion, development, support, and amplification of minority and women owned business throughout the regional economy.

Sixth, it is vitally important that we support efforts to better connect neighborhoods and strengthen our transportation network. That means investing in mobility solutions to ensure opportunity across the region.

Finally, I envision a more connected community in this last strategy. It is imperative that we all work together collaboratively as we undertake major initiatives.  Collaboration and open communication will prevent duplication of resources and ensure we move forward cohesively.  The truth is that we as a region haven’t done the best job of that.  But today is a new day and we can start afresh.

I want to stress that this is a community plan we are building.  There are a lot of people working in these spaces already.  GLI will not directly lead each initiative, but the plan itself will contain the road-map for all of us.  My vision is for GLI to be laser focused on a few of the initiatives, do them really well, and support others when needed.

When I first read the data our consultant compiled, I was excited about how foundational it is.  We always look for magic bullets, but it is the fundamentals that matter. I get excited thinking about companies that will want to move here because they can collaborate with similar companies.  I get excited about homegrown talent or university students staying here because it is such a great place to live with fabulous job opportunities.  I get excited about an environment where small business explodes.  These strategies are the foundation for these results and more.

Implementation of this plan will require business leadership and I have no doubt those of you in this room will rise to the occasion.  Many of you may be asking “how.”  As a detail-oriented person myself, I can’t wait to delve deeply into this and have specific and tangible results to show.  In the meantime, we are engaging many different voices across our region, and we will be asking you for even more public input in the coming months.

It’s not by accident that GLI has designated 2020 as the Year of Leadership. We are grooming the next generation of leaders to help us with these goals. As the youngest-ever CEO of GLI, I will amplify new, fresh voices that will add a different dimension to our work.

As a first woman-CEO, in 2020, the centennial of women getting the right to vote, I’m eager to “power-with”, not “power-over.” As our keynote, Henry Timms will share later tonight, lasting movements only occur if there are crowdbuilders.  The new power that Henry emphasizes comes from the ability to channel influence and motivate people to participate. That is my charge and that is ours if we are to succeed.

I believe deeply that if we work together, if we are engaged, if we are passionate–we can build the crowd and channel new power to help bring community wide prosperity. I look forward to doing this with you.

Thank you.