This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County. 

There are 30,000 people at SXSW and I was in a session with 1,799 strangers.

On the surface it doesn’t appear to be an easy place to identify who people are and how they could connect to what you do. However, every 90 minutes you’re sitting next to two new people and networking can happen intentionally or by chance.

Paul from Sharp happened to sit at my picnic table while eating a coconut curry rice bowl off a food truck in front of the convention center.

Paul sat down at a table with five Mansfielders and he was probably hoping to have a quiet meal. That didn’t happen. Paul’s company recently purchased a new company that was looking to expand to a few areas. One was in Ohio and another out of state - they didn’t choose to expand in Ohio. I asked him, “Why didn’t you choose Ohio?”

Paul said the reason they chose the site out of state was because they were ready to receive the company - the infrastructure was already in place. Everything they needed to get up and running quickly was established and it was easy.

We talked about what it takes to encourage a company the size of his to relocate to a new city. What if we focused more intentionally on collectively attracting people and business to our area? What would that look like and how big could it be?

I went to hear Bozoma Saint John, Chief Brand Officer with Uber talk about rebranding. It got me thinking about what is our brand? What are we good at? What do people recognize first about Mansfield?

Bozoma was impressive for how she spoke about humanity. She explained that Uber isn’t just cars and transportation - perhaps that person using Uber is going to meet the love of their life, to a job interview or to the grocery store. Everything starts with people and we have nearly 50,000 of them in the city of Mansfield.

She had a few key questions I think we could use as a community:

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• What are we creating to help people?

• What are the elements of humanity we’re hoping to improve?

• How are we telling the story?

I started to think about the things that come out of our mouths first when someone tilts their head to the side and says, “Mansfield? Where’s that?” We all say the same thing: “About an hour from Cleveland and Columbus. Have you seen Shawshank Redemption?”

What if we re-branded Mansfield? What if we mentioned Cleveland, Columbus and Shawshank after telling people what we’re about and why Mansfield is great?

Stay tuned and follow the progress via #SXSW419. And watch for more blogs at richlandsource.com/rising_from_rust/sxsw.

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

South By Southwest Conference Blogger

Senior Community Investment Officer at Richland County Foundation. Allie helps donors fulfill their charitable wishes through grant making. She discovers and discusses community opportunities, projects and programs with donors and grant recipients.