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The Mayor finds “Civic Vitality” at Groundwork!

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell meeting with Groundwork! members at the co-working facility.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell meeting with Groundwork! members at the co-working facility.

When you need a cultural fix you may head to the New Bedford Whaling Museum or an art gallery. When you need some recreation you may head to Carabiner’s Fitness or drop in on Yoga in the Park. When you need to satiate your hunger you can head to dNB Burgers or No Problemo.

And when you want to find the center of gravity in New Bedford’s entrepreneurial economy, you head to Groundwork! – which is exactly what New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell did this past Monday evening.

The mayor came to Groundwork! on August 1st for one reason – to find out exactly how and why the co-working facility has unleashed the creativity of its members and enjoyed game-changing growth over the last year. More importantly, he came to learn how the lessons of Groundwork! can be applied throughout the city.

Jon Mitchell started the meeting by acknowledging that enacting new ideas can be an effort – and that a lot of that effort has been of the top-down variety, which simply isn’t sustainable. At Groundwork!, the inspiration flows upward and embodies what he called “civic vitality.” He also admitted that the city lacks an entrepreneurial eco-system – and the meeting was part of the process of establishing one in New Bedford.

Groundwork! members were happy to help.

Scott Dubois of Pidalia, a digital agency, pointed the group in the direction of entrepreneurial capitals like Chattanooga, TN and Birmingham, Al – cities that have embraced the opportunities of this economic model. He said that of the three main components to establishing a vibrant entrepreneurial center, New Bedford was ahead on one score – access to decision-makers, exemplified by the mayor’s visit and the on-going dialogue with the city’s Economic Development Council, headed by Derek Santos, who was also in attendance.

Santos said that when it comes to creating a workable entrepreneurial eco-system in the city, Groundwork! was the first – and highly successful – component of a plan that was only about 400 days into what needs to be at least a four-year plan.

The other essential elements of an entrepreneurial economy as outlined by Dubois are accountability and speed – areas where the city needs improvement.

E for All’s Shelley Cardoos argued that the city’s permitting process for special events needs to become less Byzantine. And, many people at the table emphasized the need for improved communication throughout the city at all levels.

In order to help facilitate improvement, Dubois and Groundwork! co-founder Sarah Athanas will be taking the lead and drafting a vision for entrepreneurship in New Bedford which will be presented to Mayor Mitchell.

For his part, the mayor said he hopes the Groundwork! formula can be expanded upon. What began as a public/private initiative has become an organic process that has evolved and grown of its own accord – and provided the city the platform it needed to pursue future opportunities.

In other words, Groundwork! is a perfect example of the power of “civic vitality.”

Steven Froias