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.

As I sit on the runway waiting to takeoff, I’m filled with so many emotions.

Nikki Lewis

I am extremely sad to be saying goodbye to this wonderful city. From the first moment I walked out onto Red River Road, I knew I had found a second home. The city was filled with excitement, passion, vibrant colors, and of course the most perfect weather (especially compared to what we were hearing about in Mansfield). The city was electric and I don’t think it was all a show for the SXSW attendees. You could tell that the residents of Austin loved their community and all it offered them.

I feel exhaustion. Even though I wish we were staying for the music festival, I am okay with heading home today. Six jam-packed days of sessions, networking, describing this project, and walking miles and miles each day. This event could wear out the most fit person, which I am not! Every day I wouldn’t want to go to bed because I felt like I’d miss out on something. After this I truly know what FOMO (fear of missing out) feels like. If only I could have cloned myself multiple times, I would have accomplished everything I put on my schedule. Unfortunately that science isn’t yet available, but after listening to some of these people, that could be a panel discussion at SXSW in coming years.

My heart is happy! I am happy that the Richland County Foundation and their board thought this project was worthwhile. I am happy that our community has been so open to this crazy project and seems to be just as pumped about it as all of us have been. I’m happy that I made new friends for life. Besides meeting all the amazing new people throughout this week, I spent hours and hours getting to know the people in this group. And I'll let you in on a little secret: they are all pretty spectacular.

And I am hopeful. I spent the last week with some of the most brilliant minds in the world - all I have to say is Elon Musk! Besides him, we had people from near and far all coming together to share their knowledge. And I’m hopeful because after absorbing all this information, we now get to come back to you and share it, teach it, and mold it all into a proposal that will help continue this amazing path that our community is riding. I am hopeful because we spread the word about this project to many people and everyone was shocked that our little ol' Mansfield is doing something that many communities have never even considered.

And finally, I’m feeling thankful. Thankful for all the support this group was shown over the last few months but mostly this last week. The fact that so many people took the time to read these blogs, share our posts, and comment on this adventure? How amazing to know that we are all in this together, this is our community and we will all fight for it together!

Thank you, Austin, for such a mind-blowing week. Keep it weird!

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

Chamber Foundation Manager for the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce. Her focus is to educate in areas relating to economics, leadership and entrepreneurship. She is a transplant to the community and is excited to be part of helping Richland County grow.

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