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Tom Eblen: Now What, Lexington? conference returns

Tom Eblen
Tom Eblen

Now what, Lexington?

That is the question ProgressLex is asking again as the citizens group hosts a second Now What, Lexington? gathering Saturday at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. Like last year, the event is free and open to anyone with ideas for making Lexington a better place.

More than a dozen sponsors are paying for participants' breakfast and lunch, so organizers want attendees to register (NowWhatLexington.org) so they know how much food to prepare.

The "unconference" format of Now What, Lexington? means anyone can sign up to lead a breakout session on a topic they have ideas about. Participants attend those sessions based on their own interests.

"Our goal is to help galvanize individuals who want to make a difference in Lexington," said Ben Self, a ProgressLex board member. "People should come with ideas they are passionate about."

The first Now What, Lexington? was organized in April 2010 to try to channel energy from the Creative Cities Summit a few weeks earlier. Ideas brought up at the forum helped expand the mission of what the city now calls the Design Excellence Task Force, chaired by Councilman Tom Blues.

Two other projects that grew out of Now What, Lexington? will soon get under way: the Lexington Cultural Bureau, which hopes to link newcomers with local people who share their interests, and Change for Art, in which local artists decorate some of the old parking meters the city is phasing out and use them to raise money for the arts.

Online strategies

Ben Self also is a technology entrepreneur who, with several of his Massachusetts Institute of Technology classmates, founded Blue State Digital, which ran online outreach for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Self later sold his stake in the company so he could get off the road and settle down in Lexington, his hometown.

Self spoke last Thursday at the Lexington Forum, a community discussion group that just launched its own online outreach strategy to increase membership. The centerpiece of that strategy is Lexingtonforum.org, designed by the Lexington media company Talent Attach.

Among Self's advice for creating more effective online strategies for businesses and non-profit organizations:

■ Do something worthwhile. "You can't hide a bad product with a good Web site," he said.

■ Communicate effectively with potential customers using frequent Web site updates, smart social media outreach and well-written email. "Being able to communicate well with email is the least talked-about and most important piece of an online strategy," Self said.

■ Create strategies that tell your story and get people involved with your organization or product so they become your ambassadors.

Corvette's comeback

General Motors has built the Corvette in Bowling Green since 1981. The automaker announced last week that it will invest $131 million in the plant and add about 250 jobs as it retools for the future. GM got $7.5 million in state tax incentives for the project.

GM's sales have roared back since its 2009 bankruptcy and government bailout. Corvette sales are up 22 percent so far this year from 2010 levels. I would love to know more about who is buying those Corvettes.

Sports cars have always been a rich man's toy, but Corvettes are a little different. Many blue-collar folks work and save for years to buy one. I see dozens of them every time I visit the National Corvette Museum, which was built across the road from the factory by a non-profit foundation of Corvette club members and other fans from across the country.

For the Corvette plant to keep humming, the economic recovery must extend beyond Wall Street to Main Street, where middle-class incomes have been stagnant for three decades but a shiny Corvette remains a powerful symbol of the American dream.

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