350 global thought leaders set to converge on Cleveland for Meeting of the Minds

If past Meeting of the Minds (MOTM) confabs are any indication, the eleventh installment of the annual conference is sure to be an inspiring conversation-starter about all things urban innovation—especially since this year's chosen setting is Cleveland.

Set to take place October 23-25 at the Global Center for Health Innovation downtown, the invite-only event will tackle pressing topics ranging from neighborhood stabilization to green infrastructure to economic growth—using Cleveland as a case study of sorts for what's possible. In choosing a 2017 location, the organization's leaders considered nine cities (including Seattle, Nashville, and Atlanta), and co-founder Gordon Feller says Cleveland "won hands-down on all counts" for meeting its selection criteria.

"Every year, we go through a process to see which cities are making significant headway in building a whole suite of innovations, not just a single innovation," explains Feller. "The idea was to pick a city that’s resurgent. The old industrial economy is no longer the dominant force in the lives of people who live and work in the city, and we wanted to see how the next economy is really emerging."

Feller says another key deciding factor was the idea that Cleveland's "resurgence is not just something happening from the mayor's office or a county executive's office, but from the bottom up. We wanted to choose a place where it would be possible to build a consortium approach, bringing together leaders from the private sector, academia, and the public sector."

To that end, MOTM has partnered with DigitalC, Case Western Reserve University, PNC, and other organizations they've identified as "carrying the torch for developing the next economy in Cleveland."

The conference will feature more than 90 speakers, including local notables like Cleveland Foundation CEO Ronald Richard, Cleveland Cavaliers CEO Len Komorowski, and City of Cleveland's Chief of Public Affairs Natoya J. Walker. CLE-centric "workshop tours" will take attendees into the field for an on-the-ground perspective; tours include a tech-focused look at the Q Arena, a sampling of Cleveland's forward-thinking urban farms, and a trip to the NASA Glenn Research Center.

"We're exploring new themes, like the role the sports sector can play in revitalization for a city, which is a big part of the Cleveland story," says Feller. "We're also looking at the energy/water/food nexus in ways we haven't done so before, as well as the role of technology—focusing on the practical impact of smart city deployments."

Though Cleveland will be the catalyst for much of the event's dialogue, Feller sees the event as a "knowledge exchange" where representatives from various cities can share their collective learnings for the greater good. "We try to be catalytic in the sense that we can bring non-Northeast Ohio leaders from around the world to Cleveland to see the magic that's unfolding," says Feller, "but they're not just picking up insights to carry home. They're also leaving something behind."

Feller co-founded MOTM in 2007 to address "a perceived gap, which at that time was much more severe than today. Private sector leaders running major companies weren't really engaged in meaningful conversations with leaders running cities." His goal was to narrow that gap by facilitating lasting partnerships and sparking important dialogue via an annual conference.

Though the MOTM conference is by invitation only, Feller encourages anyone interested in getting involved to join their free global network and participate in their year-round programming.

"It sounds like an elite convocation of leaders, but we make a special effort to include anyone who wants to participate," says Feller, citing MOTM's blogs, webinars, YouTube videos, and active social media debates. "We have 25,000 people in our global network, and not all are leaders running large institutions. Our focus is on people who can carry the message outward."

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.