Kara Clark Williams knows about vision. And about the region where she was born, raised and trained to think across state lines. She grew up in Reading, went to school in Northern Kentucky and now lives in Florence with her husband Wade and their dog Colby. The vice president of Vision 2015 in Northern Kentucky receives the NKU Outstanding Alumnus Award this week, topping off a run of honors that include 2011 Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati Magazine’s Next Power Brokers (2011). She shares her distinctively regional insights with Soapbox.
Soapbox: Can you explain, elevator-pitch style, the goals of Vision 2015?
Kara Clark Williams: Vision 2015 is a powerful growth plan for Northern Kentucky – a catalyst for progress.
SB: What is your job at Vision 2015? What does that look like in everyday life?
KCW: My title is Vice President, Strategic Initiatives and Communication. I have the pleasure of working with community partners – thought leaders, organizations and businesses – on both sides of the river, to identify initiatives that will transfer our region and move us up the economic ladder. I try to provide strategic guidance and build a common understanding of complex problems facing our region. I often use the words convener, catalyzer and facilitator to describe my role.
SB: As someone who has been involved with the planning and implementation of Vision 2015, what do you see as its biggest impact so far?
KCW: I am very proud of the role Vision 2015 has played in “incubating” several collaborative organizations that will outlast the Vision 2015 growth plan and be transformational for Northern Kentucky for years to come. The creation of the Northern Kentucky Education Council and the Catalytic Fund are two examples of these phenomenal organizations that simply would not have happened with out Vision 2015.
SB: How do you see Northern Kentucky's and Cincinnati's strategic goals in relation to each other?
KCW: Vision 2015 and our Southwest Ohio counterpart, Agenda 360, work in strategic collaboration with one another. Our two organizations are united by common goals and work seamlessly to grow prosperity throughout Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati. I think Mary Stagaman, director of Agenda 360, said it best in their latest annual report, “Collaboration is central to the work of Agenda 360 and no partnership is more important that ours with Vision 2015.”
SB: What do you think is the biggest misconception about Northern Kentucky?
KCW: I think a huge misconception about NKY and Cincinnati is that it is a boring place to live. I love when someone says, “there is nothing to do here,” because I can list item after item after item of unique, fun, and innovative things taking place in this region AND I can afford to do just about anything and everything I want because our region is so affordable.
SB: If you were taking a tourist on a trip through N. Ky., what five places would you make sure to visit?
KCW: Just five????
I love the natural beauty of this area and I love to eat and drink local. So, I would start by taking a visitor on a walk from Cincinnati across the Suspension Bridge, in front of the Legacy murals, and around to the Licking River Greenway (hopefully the farmers market at Roebling Point would be open so we could pass through as we head to the Greenway). If the trails weren’t enough of a workout I would suggest a bike ride on Route 8 to work up an appetite before lunch at Virgil’s Café followed by a cupcake at Three Tiers, both located on Fairfield Avenue in Bellevue. Before leaving the rich architecture of our urban core, I would make sure they visit the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. I would end the five stop tour on the Back Roads Wine Trail Tour to: Atwood Hill Winery & Vineyard, Seven Wells Winery & Vineyard, Camp Springs Winery & Vineyard, StoneBrook Winery & Vineyard, and Baker-Bird Winery & Vineyard. And as they depart Northern Kentucky I would time it so they get to round the bend at the Cut in the Hill at dusk, just as the city lights begin to flicker.
SB: You went to and graduated from NKU. You worked for TANK and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. So when did you first realize that you wanted to make working to promote and further the goals of Northern Kentucky your career?
KCW: When I was a student at NKU I learned the value of service learning and realized that I loved giving back to the community. My passion for service and community engagement has grown from wanting to help individuals and specific causes to wanting to address complex challenges in a systematic and sustainable way. I love waking up every day determined to promote and further the goals of Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati.
SB: What's something about you that no one would ever guess? It could be a hobby, a past experience, a secret passion?
KCW: If paddle boarding were an Olympic sport, I might bring home the gold! I am not athletic. Most people know I am not an athlete, but I jumped on a board while honeymooning in Hawaii this past fall and I was a natural.
SB: Finally, you've been recognized for your work in Northern Kentucky and as a regional leader; you're being honored by your alma mater, too--so what is your dream for the future?
KCW: I don’t want our region to be in crisis or on the verge of a crisis for residents to engaged directly in our challenges. I do not want us to be complacent or settle for being a mediocre Midwest region. That is not who we are and I want to make sure that’s not who we become. The possibilities for this region are endless if we all focus on our future together.
Compiled by Elissa Yancey
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