The best way to predict the future is to invent it. That was — and still is — the aim of Owatonna Forward.
There are so many reasons that people are drawn to Owatonna: great schools, beautiful parks, proximity to the metro area (not too close and not too far), good jobs, and wonderful people. These reasons, and many more, keep people here for a lifetime. And in that lifetime, times have changed and times always will. Without change, dreams and communities wither and die.
So, that’s why a grassroots group launched Owatonna Forward in 2016. Our group dreamed of an even better future for our community: a bustling downtown, enough housing to support the number of people who work here, and more places for people to gather and have fun.
It quickly became clear to the first volunteers of Owatonna Forward that a vision and goals to get us there needed to be shaped by the entire community, not just by the group. So, we asked people in the community to offer their thoughts, suggestions and goals in a series of open forums and through a questionnaire. Over 2,500 people participated.
Your friends and neighbors, and probably yourself, offered perspectives and ideas, what they appreciate and value, as well as their hopes and dreams for Owatonna tomorrow, five years, 10 years and even 50 years from today.
During this information and opinion gathering phase, several priorities and core ideas emerged: Housing, lifelong learning, health, wellness and recreation, sense of community, safety, and downtown revitalization. Goals (called destiny drivers) supportive of these values began to take shape. These goals are now the good work in front of all of us — not just the volunteers of Owatonna Forward — but all of us.
The development of the destiny drivers represents the first big step showcasing our community’s ability to create meaningful change through conversation, collaboration and collective problem solving.
Identifying the goals is just the first step and although it was a couple of years of work and thousands of hours of sorting, prioritizing, debating, and listening — it really is a baby step. Now that we have the destination, we now need the map on how to get there.
Owatonna Forward needs your help to do that. We see huge opportunities by increasing collaboration and diversity, strengthening relationships and building on the steps taken. In order to improve the outcomes and realize success, we know we need to bring more people into the collaboration process to support the vision and help us, our friends, our neighbors and the people we have yet to meet, to carry out these changes — and other changes nobody has seen so far.
All of the volunteers of Owatonna Forward, and we are all volunteers, know that we need to tell the story to the community — the past, the possibilities, what is happening and what we are becoming in order to keep you informed and, hopefully, willing to jump in and help. We want you to step forward, to imagine and help create our future.
We don’t want to be a best-kept secret. To overcome that, we plan to use targeted communication through social media, e-mail marketing and promotion, traditional local media, and talks to service clubs and other organizations. We want your help.
The work on achieving the goals is important. It’s important because working together on common goals is in itself a positive process for the good of the community. We have so many valuable assets, gifts and resources in the people of our community.
Tomorrow is already inspiring our today. Just look at what is already happening in our own backyard with individuals, businesses and institutions. Owatonna Forward doesn’t represent a City institution plan. Instead, we offer a community plan crafted by people who live, work, learn and play here.
We ask that you consider Owatonna Forward as not only trying to bring about improvements through change but trying to be complementary to work already being done by others — an engine with a blueprint.
We know that successful communities must define and make their own way forward. Over the years, there have been many examples of how Owatonna has made its way forward and improved the lives of its residents.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow’s successes have or will mean working shoulder to shoulder. Owatonna Forward call to action is for a bold, actionable and unifying blueprint that once realized with enhance the quality of life for us, our children and our grandchildren, and provide increased economic vibrancy.
We invite you to join with us to do just that.
Peng Olson is a 25-year community resident and an active member of the Owatonna Forward movement.