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November 2018 Issue

From the Executive Director:
Top Ten Things I Learned Over Two Crazy, Crazy Months of Travel


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Top Ten Things I Learned Over Two Crazy, Crazy Months of Travel

Raising the Bar | From the Executive Director | November 2018

By: Jeff Kutash, Executive Director

I used to travel too much for work. How do I know that? Because every pen in my briefcase had the name of a hotel on it. Because flight attendants knew me by name. Because my wife and kids never knew what city I was in, or why I was there. And I thought I had left that behind when I joined Peter Kiewit Foundation. I love that my travel now is in my car, that my work now is in my community, and that I am home now almost every night with my family for dinner. But over the last two months, for one reason or another, I have been in Portland, Denver, Minneapolis, Bentonville, Pittsburgh, and Oakland. Yikes. That’s too much travel. But I will say that the one great thing about visiting other places is that you always see something in a new light. So here are my top ten learnings from the past two crazy, crazy months of travel…

Portland, Oregon:

Why am I here? I sit on the national board of College Possible, an organization whose Omaha site we fund. They do great work to ensure that low-income students receive the support they need to get to and through college. We have six sites around the country, and one is in Portland, where we are holding our annual board retreat. So of course, given Peter Kiewit Foundation’s work to support the development of a regional, multi-modal transportation system in Omaha, I flew in a day early to check out their transportation system. And I had a great tour guide, Nancy Hales, a Portlandian who was just appointed executive director of the HDR Foundation.

So here are my top two learnings from Portland:

  • In 1979, 60% of downtown Portland was surface parking lots, they had a limited transit system, and far too few people living and working downtown. Sounds a lot like Omaha today! Now Portland has a modern transit system, nearly 100,000 downtown workers, and surface parking lots have been replaced by green space, retail, restaurants, and apartments. How did Portland do it? They got started by focusing on a single rail line in an area of town that made sense. That first line was hugely successful in driving economic development and the changes noted above. Again, sounds a lot like Omaha today with what we are hoping to accomplish with the streetcar.
  • Portland is creative when it comes to promoting transit. Free donuts and coffee for riders. Free $5 when you sign up for their transit card. And Omaha definitely needs an inclusion bus.

Minneapolis, Minnesota:

Why am I here? The McKnight Foundation is holding a one-day conference on rural philanthropy. We are a statewide funder and over 30% of our grants are made in rural communities, so I’m here to talk with and learn from rural funders across the country. (I also snuck in a visit to Youth Frontiers, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit we fund that runs school-based retreats on character, kindness, courage, and respect in over 100 Omaha area public and private schools.)

Here are the top two things I learned at the conference about rural philanthropy:

  • 93% of land in America is rural and 19% of Americans live in rural communities, but only 7% of private foundation dollars are invested in those communities.
  • Rural communities often face the exact same challenges faced in inner-city urban communities – lack of transportation; poverty; limited access to quality health, education, and other services; and challenges accessing broadband and technology. That’s an important reminder for philanthropy.

Denver, Colorado:

Why am I here? This summer, at a conference, I met Lindy Eichenbaum, the new executive director of the Rose Community Foundation. We discovered that our organizations had a lot in common so we committed to getting together for a day to talk shop. So I’m here to see what we can learn from each other.

Here is what I learned from Lindy:

  • Communication should be viewed as an “impact center”, not a “cost center” because it can highlight the work of grantees, inform the community about the issues we support, and share lessons learned through successes and failures.
  • It is very important to filter our work through the lens of place, and not just by issue area. The people we help through education work are the same people we help through economic development and anti-poverty work. Taking a geographic view helps to reduce redundancy and create more holistic solutions.

Bentonville, Arkansas:

Why am I here? Bentonville, home of Walmart, is also home of the Walton Family Foundation. They put on a four-day Heartland Summit (Thursday to Sunday, that’s not cool!) focused on growing private and philanthropic investment in the 19 states that comprise the middle of America.

Here is what I learned:

  • 83% of venture capital in the country go to three states – New York, California, and Massachusetts. Only 3% goes to the 19 states, including Nebraska, that comprise the Heartland.
  • If you want to draw high quality entrepreneurs, young professionals, investors, and new businesses to your city, you need to focus on three things:
    1. building a dense entrepreneurial ecosystem (e.g. networking events, mentoring, accelerators, investment capital, events, technical assistance)
    2. having a quality research University that drives innovative product development and start-ups
    3. creating a quality of place that will attract and retain talent (e.g. transportation, parks, cultural amenities, quality public schools).

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

Why am I here? We fund MAPA, our regional transportation planning agency, to coordinate an annual learning visit to a community that is doing a great job with transportation, transit, and transit-oriented development. So, I joined 33 other cross-sector Omaha leaders to see what Pittsburgh is up to, and to attend the national Rail-volution conference.

What did I learn?

  • Transportation is the glue that ties together a community. It provides access to jobs, education, health care, and entertainment. It connects people to each other and to goods and services. It is a critical component of quality of life.
  • Pittsburgh has nearly 100 miles of dedicated bike lanes (Portland has over 250) and the city now ranks eighth in the country in the percent of people who bike to work. In comparison, Omaha has less than 25 miles.

Oakland, California:

Why am I here? Because my wife and I bought five $89 round-trip Wednesday-Saturday tickets on Frontier for a four-day getaway while our schools were closed. What we observed: $4.69/gallon gas. $2.5M for a three-bedroom apartment. Sitting in traffic for an hour to travel 10 miles. Stressed people working 60-80 hour weeks. So what did we learn? That we made a great decision in moving to Nebraska! Although the surfing in California is way, way better than the surfing here in Nebraska…