Viewpoint

In Charlotte, we need research and action

Charlotte will benefit from the combined effforts of startups and task forces.
Charlotte will benefit from the combined effforts of startups and task forces. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Amy Chiou is correct that Charlotte needs more startups tackling our community’s difficult tasks. We agree with that point, as advanced in her Dec. 14 op-ed, “No more task forces, please!” However, her call for eliminating task forces is misguided.

The truth: most startups fail. The successful ones do the requisite work before launching, such as developing a business plan, defining the scope of the problem and researching the market to determine needs, gaps, opportunities and challenges.

This, not coincidentally, is also what a task force does. And that is where we disagree with Ms. Chiou. If startups want to increase their odds of success, then we need community task forces.

It is historically incorrect to paint local task forces as unnecessary. A well-managed task force is not, as Ms. Chiou puts it, “an unwieldy group that is too large to be effective.” And we have many successful task forces as evidence.

Forty regional leaders and organizations were convened as a large task force to determine the region’s most pressing environmental needs. Open space preservation was the top priority. In response, the Carolina Thread Trail was launched. It now weaves 250 miles through 15 counties in the Carolinas. More than 80 governmental jurisdictions have adopted master plans for 1,250 miles more.

A task force led to the creation of the Levine Center for the Arts, which refocused and revitalized Uptown Charlotte. Economic development around the area has been stunning.

The Future of the Library Task Force provided 39 recommendations that covered funding, system, services and structure. The Library Board and the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners worked hard to implement them immediately and saw results in extended hours, increased funding and improved resources. Our library system is stronger than ever.

Another task force set out to determine why less than half of Charlotte’s third graders were reading on grade level. After much research, it moved forward with the goal of doubling third-grade reading outcomes over the next decade. A “startup” named Read Charlotte was launched to fulfill the task force’s purpose.

Most recently, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force delivered its final report. This diverse group identified key determinants in improving upward mobility: early childhood education, college and career readiness and family stability, as well as cross-cutting factors of segregation and social capital.

It’s too early to identify final results – it’s a plan requiring decades of work. However, we have seen the creation of the Leading on Opportunity Council and a recent $1.5 million commitment from Bank of America to help advance implementation strategies. Private and nonprofit groups as diverse as Novant Health, Wells Fargo, Accenture, Renaissance West, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and the United Way of Central Carolinas, among dozens of others, are already helping to implement the recommendations of the report. The city is moving the ball on affordable housing recommendations and the county on universal early care and education.

In fact, Ms. Chiou’s own organization, Queen City Forward, is looking at how to help with implementation, and she’s assisting the effort in other invaluable ways.

We assume none of these task force successes were top of mind when Ms. Chiou wrote of the “consequences of ineffective civic leadership.” Nor do their outcomes take away from her column’s central point: We need startups in our community doing more to move us forward more quickly.

As Ms. Chiou points out, a task force “elevates public discourse.” Exactly. The job of a task force is not to actually DO the task. The “task” of a task force is to define the scope of the problem, raise its visibility and provide recommendations. It is then up to the community – nonprofit, corporate, government and, yes, entrepreneurial startups – to respond.

We don’t have to choose between task forces and startups. Our community’s recent history with effective task force work producing tangible results has proven the value of the model. Let’s not draw unnecessary lines between research and action when we are better served at highlighting how the two can work together.

Marsicano is the president and CEO of Foundation for the Carolinas.

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