Four local finalists in Knight Cities Challenge


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The Knight Foundation announced 126 finalists in its Knight Cities Challenge, and four of those finalists are Maconites. Their ideas involve retaining talent, creating opportunity, and enhancing community engagement.

The finalists said they are excited to move forward in the process and hope to have the chance to make a difference in the Macon community.

The Knight Cities Challenge originated from the Knight Neighborhood Challenge, an initiative that started in Macon nearly five years ago. Around 7,000 contestants submitted their ideas from 26 different cities for a chance to receive a grant from a $5 million pool. The remaining 126 finalists have to submit another application which goes into more details about their ideas.

Finalists will send in information about where the funding will go, how the project will be staffed, how the project will be sustained, and more in depth information about their individual ideas.

“When we heard back that we had been chosen to be a finalist, it was very exciting, and we hope that we can make it happen for Macon,” Josh Lovett, a Mercer University graduate and a member of the staff for College Hill Alliance said.

Lovett submitted an idea called Operation Export Macon. If he receives a grant from the Knight Foundation, the money will go towards fixing a trailer to showcase the best food, Macon made products, and activities in Macon, he said.

The trailer will go to sporting events, festivals, colleges, neighborhoods and other events in Macon to make people aware of what Macon has to offer, Lovett said.

“We really want to go out there and show you where the places are to eat, what are the things to do, how you really get involved in Macon and really make Macon your own.”

Lakey Boyd, a community and economic development consultant and recently made Maconite, submitted an idea called Make It Happen in Macon Community Capital Fund.

“I think it’s impacting the culture here around sharing ideas, around risk taking, around starting something for yourself.”

Her idea is to provide funding for startup businesses or existing small businesses, social innovation and causes within the Macon community, Boyd said.

Every quarter of a year the program would give away $15,000 for 18 months. Expert judges will choose finalists, but there will be an open slot for people to vote their favorite idea for a people’s choice award, Boyd said. The winner from one quarter are supposed to return to share their progress.

The idea is supposed to create a forum in Macon where people can discuss ideas and gain opportunities to succeed.

“I think this is a great thing that Mercer students could ultimately participate in,” Boyd said.

Geoffrey Boyd, a landscape architect who recently moved to Macon with his wife, Lakey Boyd, also submitted an idea to the Knight Cities Challenge called Park Advocate Macon.

“There were so many submissions. It’s exciting and an honor. It’s really amazing.”

Boyd said that when he came to Macon, he saw many different groups that were dedicated to improving and maintaining certain parks throughout the community. His idea for the Knight Cities Challenge consists of bringing these groups together to better coordinate, leverage resources, and share experiences. He said the idea is to “start thinking together about all the parks collectively.”

The fourth finalist is Robert Betzel, CEO of Infinity Network Solutions. Betzel is also involved with SparkMacon which inspired his idea for the contest. It is called SparkMacon is Sparking Innovative Thinking for Macon-Bibb.

SparkMacon is a fully volunteer based makerspace in downtown Macon that is for public use. It has tools and equipment for people of the Macon community to use to bring their ideas to life.

His idea for the Knight Cities Challenge is to provide SparkMacon with the funding to have a full time director and provide programs for the community, Betzel said.

“We’re not asking to start something, but to expand what we already have.”

The 126 finalists were given roughly three weeks to work out the details of their ideas and have to submit the application by February 1, Betzel said.

 

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