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Jacksonville Group Deems Vision For The City


Jacksonville is called many names: "The River City," "Actionville," "The Bold New City Of the South." But Will Ketchum says those are just taglines.

“No great city was built on a tag line," Ketchum said. “but tag lines follow building greatness.”


Ketchum is a volunteer with the truJAX initiative, a partnership between the city’s Office of Economic Development, Visit Jacksonville, JCCI and JAX Chamber.

The group has been working to shape a vision for the city. Ketchum says while Nashville is known for music and Savannah for it’s historical charm, Jacksonville doesn't really own anything.

“We’re missing out on opportunities for investment, for talent attraction, workforce growth [and] visitation,” he said.

Ketchum says that's why Jacksonville needs an authentic vision.

The team used survey data and focus groups to identify Jacksonville’s strengths and weaknesses. For instance in a survey polling people who lived outside of the city, “growth potential” was deemed Jacksonville's greatest advantage, while “crime and safety” as the greatest concern.

Ketchum says truJAX also worked with North Star, a Community Branding Agency. The team learned it needed to figure out Jacksonville's “DNA.”

Through the research truJAX identified four distinguishing Jacksonville assets:

  1. natural elements, e.g. the river and parks,
  2. entrepreneurial attitudes, e.g. One Spark,
  3. civic engagement, e.g. people volunteer and engage in healthy debates,
  4. and finally Jacksonville's “can-do attitude.”

“What we saw is that the natural environment has shaped a character here of sort of an unstoppable attitude and mixing it up and really pushing and pulling,” Ketchum said. “And if that exists, how can we build upon that concept?”
The result, the team deemed the city's DNA as "Jacksonville has open possibilities, opportunities and attitudes."

Which led truJAX to come up with a vision that says “Jacksonville will be a global center for idea, opinion and commercial exchange.”

He says the next step is to share the vision and hope people grab onto it.

“So what we have here is a foundation and the foundation is our city’s DNA, our essence, and then a vision for how we can live into it,” Ketchum said. “Now the hard part of challenging this community to understand the DNA, embrace it.”

He says he’s also counting on different entities who market the city and city officials to use it when making decisions.

Former Jacksonville Mayor and University of North Florida President John Delaney worked with truJAX. He says he thinks this vision will be successful.

“The whole idea is 'Think big,'” he said. “And we draw that from some of these visits to other cities and did some kind of crazy ideas sometimes really have worked because we had the community dreaming big.”

Some ideas presented included better linking parts of town. Also, building a convention center on the river and being intentional about using Jacksonville as a hub for national debates and environmental symposiums.

Most of the plans focus on downtown’s Urban Core. Delaney says Jacksonville is unique because it’s so large and diverse, but the vision should rope in other areas as well.

“In a place like Cincinnati, they’ll be surrounded by two or three dozen suburban cities of their own,” Delaney said. “And so the idea is to help try to draw in the regional communities into a bigger vision for Jacksonville itself.”

TruJAX says a plan like this could take 10 years to fully come to fruition.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.