A nonprofit focused on attracting and retaining young creatives and professionals in Dayton has a new director. UpDayton has announced entrepreneur Lauren White will lead the organization as it celebrates its 10th anniversary.
The group was launched in response to the economic downturn and a desire to boost Dayton’s creative economy and quality of life. A decade after its founding, WYSO’s Sheila Raghavendran looks at how UpDayton's mission has evolved, and what might be next.
A decade ago, UpDayton was little more than a thought bubble.
A group of seven young people had come together in Dayton. Some in the group were born here, others were newer to the city, all of them wanted to change what they saw as the perception of Dayton, which wasn’t very good at the time.
The region was reeling from job losses and the Great Recession.
AJ Ferguson was UpDayton’s most recent director. He was involved in the group for about three and a half years, ending in May, and now works at the Downtown Dayton Partnership.
"UpDayton’s central mission is: get people involved and let them find their cause," Ferguson says.
The idea behind the group’s formation was simple: get young people more engaged in their city. UpDayton founders figured encouraging young talent would have a ripple effect in helping to create the city they wanted to see as manufacturing declined.
Ferguson says UpDayton aims to support volunteers or potential community leaders who are passionate about making change in Dayton.
"If we don’t have a leader stepping up saying they want to get that done, that probably means we’re not in a position to do an effective project in that category," Ferguson says.
After their involvement with UpDayton many volunteers go on to make their mark at other Dayton-area organizations.
And some find their start at UpDayton’s annual summit, where volunteers present proposals for projects to improve the city and the summit audience votes for their favorites.
UpDayton backs winning volunteer projects with funding it collects through donations.
Past summit winners include projects focused on children, education or the arts.
One of this year’s winning projects is a memorial mural dedicated to Daytonians whose lives were lost to opioid overdose.
Another recent winner was The Longest Table, a recurring event where Dayton residents can connect with each other over a meal at a huge table.
UpDayton co-founder Scott Murphy says encouraging young talent to take action in Dayton has had an impact.
Many young people used to leave Dayton, feeling like there were no opportunities here. But, Murphy says he’s seen a change in how young people view the city.
"People are really feeling good about where things are heading and that’s the case for the first time in a long, long time, for Dayton," Murphy says. "It’s a very different environment, from that perspective, from where we started in 2007, 2008."
Back then, Murphy says, Dayton was in a rut. The city was in decline. Things have improved since then.
And, Murphy says, a decade ago, most of UpDayton’s projects were downtown-focused. Now, more of the group's projects branch out into the city’s other neighborhoods.
Michelle Ton is UpDayton’s board chair and has been involved in the organization for the last five years.
She says UpDayton found through research what factors generally make people want to stay somewhere.
"It’s where you work, where you live, who are you connected to," Ton says. "What UpDayton really tries to do is to connect the dots between those three."
A few years ago the group ran a survey to see how people in Dayton felt about those three drivers.
"What we found was that people felt actually relatively good about all three," Ton says. "Probably the strongest connection point there was with their community."
Ton says the survey revealed what they had hoped — that people felt pretty good about their Dayton community.
After a decade in operation, she says UpDayton organizers hope to keep the momentum going and continue retaining and attracting more young professionals in the region, and getting them involved in projects to improve life in Dayton.
According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, Dayton’s population of people ages 20 to 34 rose only slightly between 2010 and 2016. It's about a two-percent increase, or around 3,000 people.
Ton says she sees the biggest impact in the young-professional community UpDayton fosters.
"It’s not just about getting young professionals to stay or what can we do on a smaller scale," Ton says. "It’s about how do we change the vision of what the Dayton area is, and get people to really buy into that."
This story is part of WYSO's Scratch series on business and the economy.
To see more stories, visit the Scratch page.