In almost all facets of life, we seek encouragement — to motivate us, to reaffirm our decisions, for a boost.
I write because I want to encourage people within their personal or career endeavors. There’s a sort of guidance in that kind of support, and it’s nice.
But Jonathan Otis practices encouragement in such a bold and beautiful way, that it will change the community he lives in.
If Jonathan Otis keeps going — advocating for a better Duluth, Minnesota, by simply asking those who live there to believe in themselves — encouragement will mean something more.
For Jon, encouragement is discovering a community’s true worth.
His eyes are wide, he’s listening all the time, and it’s all for Duluth.
Plan: Create Duluth
Jon is such an ideal Builder because he’s brave, he’s ambitious and he’s ready to take a leap, he just needs support and someone to believe in him.
We believe in him.
“This has given me the courage I need to take that first step,” Jon says. “This program has already encouraged me to engage the people who I want to have conversations with, and it’s encouraged me to develop a deeper plan going forward of what Create Duluth might be.”
So, what is Create Duluth? Right now, it’s an idea, a community project that will build relationships within the city and, through conversations and idea sharing, help to make Duluth a better place to live, work and raise a family.
“I hope this project creates entrepreneurship and artistic expression and economic development,” Jon says.
But he’s looking beyond the city, too. With Create Duluth, Jon envisions a positive economical impact on Greater Minnesota — or what Minnesotans call the Iron Range. For the past few months — years, really — the state’s mining industry has seen a downturn, and Jon doesn’t want to see those employees leave without first exploring possibility that still exists outside their familiar work life.
“The price for foreign steel is so much cheaper than the American steel, so many of the mines are starting to idle,” Jon explains. “There is a lot of negativity there, but I want people to realize that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. There’s still wonderful opportunities out here!”
Jon is confident that open discussions of ideas hiding within the hearts of Duluth residents will help. Just as we believe in Jon, he believes in his neighbors.
“I want to encourage someone on the mines who has always had this uncomfortable idea that they didn’t know what to do with,” Jon says. “My Create Duluth project is to find those people and encourage them to talk about their ideas and hear their ideas come out of their mouth so that it becomes real.
“Everybody has something inside them — like a spark — and I’m just hoping we can fan that spark into something better.”
It’s OK to be afraid of an idea, Jon says, but that’s not enough to let it go, especially if it can benefit an entire community or region. “My ultimate goal for Duluth is to get those people what they need, connect them with the right people who have the right attitudes, so they can explore their ideas a bit further.
“Maybe their idea is the next great thing on the Iron Range,” Jon says. He pauses.
“Every day, I’m just amazed at how many wonderful people are in Duluth,” he says. “There’s so much potential here.”
First step: Talking
This all starts with a conversation, and not just between two people eager to make a change, but across the entire city of Duluth.
To Jon, everyone deserves to be heard.
“I want to encourage entrepreneurs from untapped populations to participate, and to give everybody a voice. I want to be as inclusive as we can and not leave anybody out just because of a less than idealistic home life or education,” he says.
“I honestly believe ideas can trump those things if we get the community behind them.”
He also believes that the more we talk, the more tangible positive change becomes.
“Once people start to talk, that’s when your ideas start to sound less crazy, because you realize that others have had them, too. So the dialogue becomes, ‘What do we do next? How do we get there?’ ”
Jon’s hope for Duluth is simple. He just wants to start a meaningful conversation that can lead to improvement of a community. He has so much faith in what can come out of those discussions, and he’s eager to get started.
It’s encouraging, for anyone listening.
Key word: Collaboration
Along with entrepreneurial work, Jon is a firefighter in Duluth, and he works for the Lake Superior Honey Co., too. He can’t help that his work as a beekeeper inspires conviction in this community involvement endeavor.
“As a beekeeper, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a hive or a colony, how every single bee in that colony has a job to do and how one bee alone cannot survive without the colony,” Jon says. “They need to work together in order to survive.”
He sees that same kind of cooperation in Duluth as more entrepreneurs come to the forefront.
“People are realizing that we don’t do it alone, we do it as part of a group. Collaboration is change … Collaboration is what helps us to succeed.”
This community is absolutely Jon’s life work, but he couldn’t do it without the people who surround him — the people who are Duluth.
“We talk about mining and logging in this area, but our greatest resource is our people,” Jon says. “And for so long, we’ve exported that resource to other areas because those people didn’t feel they could do it here, but if we can become the place of opportunity and keep those people here, we’re going to be so much better off for it, and we’re going to start to attract people from other communities who will bring their talent and their skills.
“I’m so excited for what the future is going to hold for Duluth.”
So long as that future of Duluth — and the entire OTA region — includes you, we’re excited, too, Jon.
We’re excited, too.