One of the pleasures of winter in Sarasota is how this region manages to attract extraordinary speakers and experts.
The Ringling College Library Town Hall Series is always rich with compelling speakers. Among them this year: former first lady Laura Bush, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal; and “Freakonomics” author Steven Levitt.
But over the past three weeks, Sarasota’s Argus Foundation, the business organization that focuses on improving the communication between the private and public sectors, has hosted two guests whose separate topics and messages coincidentally pointed in the same direction.
One of those guests was part-time Longboat Key resident, Dr. Phil Kotler, the world-renowned professor at Northwestern University, textbook author and expert on marketing. If you’ve ever studied marketing, no doubt you have read at least one of Dr. Kotler’s books.
The other Argus speaker was Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, whom we featured on the front page of last week’s edition. Before being elected lieutenant governor, Abramson spent nearly 15 years as mayor of Louisville.
Kotler’s presentation focused on the subject of one of his textbooks: “place marketing,” specifically what Greater Sarasota can do to market itself better, to draw more visitors and businesses and create a worldwide brand identity.
Kotler handed out a treasure trove of specific suggestions. For one, he says, “You need to decide what you want to be when you grow up … Sarasota needs a strategic plan. It needs to develop a unique tagline” that encompasses what Sarasota has to offer, which he says is “excellent weather and natural beauty with high-quality arts and culture. No other city can make that claim.”
And he made this important point: “All sectors (of the community) must work together if you want to have something really great.”
Lt. Gov. Abramson, a few days later, told how the city of Louisville shook its complex as a second-tier city and took steps to become an equal, if not move ahead of nearby rivals Nashville and Cincinnati. Its main step: It consolidated its county and city governments into one — and united the community behind that concept.
There was no need to have two of every service and department in local government. There was no need for two economic development agencies and multiple chambers of commerce.
Today, Jefferson County and Louisville are one.
One of the key questions that arose after Kotler and Abramson’s presentations was the obvious one: How?
Kotler was asked: How do you make it happen? How does a community decide what its brand is?
Abramson was asked: How did consolidation happen?
Their responses were the same: You need a leader.
Kotler suggested a strong, elected mayor. In Louisville and Jefferson County, each already had strong elected mayors. The two mayors, Abramson said, were committed to the consolidation and led the charge.
The more you watch what unfolds at City Hall and at the County Administration building, the more the evidence mounts for a new form of local government here. Crucial to Sarasota’s future — city and county — is an elected CEO mayor who can be held accountable and, most important, who can lead the community forward.