Reflection on Vision 2020 and beyond

Published 8:21 am Wednesday, May 1, 2019

This commentary submitted by The Vision 2020 Steering Committee Members

Vision 2020’s mission has been simple: to harness the ideas and energy of volunteers, in collaboration with community organizations, to implement a shared vision for improving Austin’s quality of life. Maybe a simple mission statement but not a simple mission to bring into reality. And certainly not a “one and done” strategy but a vision to inspire us to look forward and create relevant engagement that grows and expands Austin’s livability.

Brief History

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A group of community leaders convened in early 2011 inspired by success in other communities. This group launched the Vision 2020 project which consisted of the public submitting over four thousand ideas on improving Austin, a public vote and a review by a volunteer committee. The result was 10 areas of vision for the community to impact:

  • Austin Utilities Plant
  • Biking and Walking
  • Business and Economic Development
  • Community Pride and Spirit
  • Community Recreation Center
  • Community-Wide Technology
  • Destination Downtown
  • Education Leaders
  • Gateway to Austin
  • Waterways

In April 2012, the Vision Statements were revealed to the public with the goal to achieve the visions by 2020. The 10visions were further developed with the creation of community committees that fueled the efforts by working with businesses, non-profits, local government, and educational institutions to make tangible progress toward goals identified through community feedback, conversations and action. These efforts resulted in hundreds of community members volunteering thousands of hours to work towards the mission of improving Austin’s quality of life in tangible outcomes.


Over the past seven years much has been explored, discovered and accomplished. This unique undertaking created opportunities for the community to explore what could be, discover the depths and wealth of community talent and commitment.

The accomplishments have been many and interwoven by significant collaboration with community businesses, government organizations, nonprofits, service organizations and beyond. The tangible accomplishments have taken a collective effort by many.  For a glance at the amazing work accomplished and the significant progress on Vision 2020’s largest vision, the Community Recreation Center set to open January 2020, visit

An equally valuable accomplishment is the collective wisdom acquired when a group engages in community-wide efforts. The inevitable challenges test endurance, patience, and community collaboration. The discoveries surfaced even in the challenges, have created a valuable foundation of learning for the future of our community and the potential of creating a work that enhances livability with a different approach.


How do you thank those who have invested time, energy, talent, finances and leadership? Thank the businesses, both for and nonprofit organizations who provided their employees the time a way from business needs to lead and participate in committees, events, and projects? Those who gave financially and continue to give as the work continues beyond the initiative of Vison 2020? We thank them best when we build upon the energy, ideas and lessons that they inspired.

The Hormel Foundation has been a central partner to many of the projects accomplished through the committees over the past seven years. The extent of resources that they have shared and support in moving ideas to realities is a testimony to what can happen when generous community members and forward thinkers collaborate at the table. It’s this type of intentional leadership that has inspired many to dream in fueling future initiatives and explore discoveries to continue the tradition of a community who looks forward, building on our strengths and the most valuable resource — our Austin area community members.

No one event could accomplish a big enough thank you nor could we identify all the individuals who have made up the collective accomplishments. A powerful thank you really comes in the form of seeing the community members, visitors and tourists utilizing the trails, waterways and the Rec Center. These will be reminders for generations to come of the commitment and forward thinking of so many.

Ongoing appreciation and thanks will inevitably show up in how we leverage all that has been accomplished and learned, both in projects that were completed and those explored yet not completed as planned. It’s that learning that will give us a historical viewpoint to build upon when engaging our community in authentic ways.

2020 Around the Corner

With 2020 around the corner the Vision 2020 Steering Committee began exploring what might lie beyond 2020: exploring, interviewing and researching if the work should continue. Asking key questions like what is needed to connect community members in the work of improving livability in the Austin area? What could it look like and how might it function?

The exploration revealed that yes the work of revitalizing, discovering and investing to grow Austin in authentic ways needs to occur, but be accomplished in a way that is sustainable and consistent. Giving attention to ideas and needs surfaced from and aligned with local research then using a framework that is adaptable to meet the changing needs and opportunities in our community can offer a process and place for voices to be heard and potential projects to bloom.

A key step has been to connect the remaining active committees to organizations or initiatives with a related vision to assure the work moves forward in meaningful ways. A couple of examples are the Embrace and Maintain our Waterways Committee linking to the Cedar River Watershed District to continue the important work of maintaining and expanding the valuable waterways that surround the Austin area. Expanding Bike/Walk Trail System Committee is linking to the work with Mower Refreshed, a community-driven wellness initiative out of Mayo Clinic Health System Albert Lea-Austin and Mower County State-wide Health Program to assure work on the trail system continues not only in Austin but connecting to county wide trail systems and beyond.

This monumental initiative to engage community members in something bigger than themselves is a reminder of the power of community. The power of pausing to truly discover we have all we need to make Austin a place where improving livability for all is not only valued but placed into action. As we close this chapter, it’s taking that intentional collaboration that helped us to discover resources to get the work done into the future, beyond Vision 2020. To all of those who participated in Vision 2020 we thank you for your contributions.

There is more to accomplish, more improvements to tend to. We are an authentic community of people committed to building on our strengths and discovering ways to enhance livability for those who call Austin, MN home and those who are yet to discover this unique community with big heart nestled in southern Minnesota.