Blog: Kat Owsley

Kathleen Owsley is the Director of One D, a collaborative initiative seeking to transform regional Detroit.  Founded by the six regional civic organizations and spearheaded by Edsel B. Ford II.

Before joining the One D initiative, Kat most recently worked as VP, Public/Private Partnerships with Issue Media Group, the publishers of Model D and metromode.  

Previous to that Kat spent nearly eight years with the Detroit Regional Chamber where she was VP, Market Development. She was responsible for approximately $2 million in revenue from business and technology programs partnerships.  In addition, she oversaw the Southeast Michigan Chamber Alliance, an alliance of 65 local chambers, the diversity partners, and a variety of other partnership for the Chamber.  

Kat received her Bachelor of Arts from Kalamazoo College and her Master of Arts from Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Michigan Society of Association Executives and the Board of Trustees for the Friends of Queen’s University of Belfast, North America.  She is a Certified Association Executive and a graduate of Center for Creative Leadership.

Kat will writing about One D, what it is and, more importantly, what it hopes to accomplish.


Photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.

Kat Owsley - Most Recent Posts:

Post No. 4

To finish up I’d like to ask that you take a look at our actions for Regional Unity and consider how you talk about this region, our city, etc. Do you talk about our fresh water as one of the most (and will become) desirable assets in terms of availability, affordability and quality? Or do you come back from a weekend of shopping in Chicago and immediately start trashing Detroit?

I think a lot of times we suffer from Schadenfreude in this region…of our own doing to make it worse! We take deviant pleasure in talking the region down.  I get very upset about this. Its one thing to have self-deprecating humour---see the hilarious ad campaigns put out by the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

I think two of my favorites were “Whos’ the Genius that Picked Detroit?” for the MENSA convention and the other was something like “Who in Heaven’s Name Picked Detroit?” for a religious conference. This I love—its cool to be the City you Take a Chance On. It’s not cool to hear how there’s nothing to do here, nothing to see, etc. So the amenities are not as readily available but I’d take Detroit and what I see happening slowly but surely over the Magnificent Mile any day.

I remember when I lived in New York and Chicago I used to get surly having to stumble over tourists on my way to the train or to get lunch. But when I lived in Belfast, I loved that there was this tension in the city. It was that dull humming just below the surface of a city that was taking the next step to get beyond the ghosts of its past with the Troubles. It was edgy with the feeling of lots of new and fresh possibilities. Kind of an underdog. Everyone automatically assumed I was at Trinity in Dublin because who in their right mind would live in Belfast by choice, right? And don’t get me wrong, Dublin is wonderful. But Belfast made me feel like I was contributing to the rebirth of something important and worthwhile.

That’s how I hope we can all feel about Detroit. It’s not the easy route but it has that dull hum just below the surface that says there are possibilities. Those that are optimistic and are taking a chance on this region say we have less barriers to overcome to succeed than other, more popular, places. It’s easier to find affordable housing, to start a business, to find commercial space, etc. 

So I choose to see our glass as half full. I always will. I hope you can, too.

One D Actions for Regional Unity:

  • Focus on the power of one voice – the common good of the region – rather than individual interests.
  • Take ownership of the region’s future.
  • Encourage regional thinking in every sector, private and public.
  • Respect each other as equal partners.
  • Reduce duplication of efforts to better utilize limited resources.
  • Consider collaborative efforts to build efficiencies and expedite  complimentary work

For more information on how to share your work or get involved, please visit or call 313.202.6309

Post No. 3

I gave a presentation to the Birmingham Bloomfield Task Force on Race Relations this week (by the way, they are a great group). It is the largest task force of its kind in the region and a valuable asset to the race relations component of One D. It’s a group like this that can provide best practices and a structured forum for breaking down racial stereotypes.   

I was asked some tough questions by one of their members about whether One D is exclusive and whether we’re engaging others in the collaboration. These were good questions because I think this is where we get a lot of confusion as it relates to the purpose of One D. 

Inherently, the public is already engaged because it was the public who was polled initially and asked for more regional collaboration and a champion for their top five issues (economic prosperity, educational preparedness, quality of life, race relations and regional transit). Those involved in One D agreed to take responsibility to report on progress being made in these areas whether it is our work or someone else’s.  

And again, the public is inherently involved in that we will circle back periodically to ask "How are we doing as a region in these five areas?"

And to reinforce the point about exclusivity—One D founding organizations alone can’t possibly close the gap on these priorities even if we wanted to. In some cases we’re not the owners nor are we the experts. There are others that "do the work" –they will be the ones that push us forward in certain areas. 

For example, there is a lot of great buzz out there about transit projects, asset mapping of our greenways spaces and water board collaborations just to name a few. 

Brian Balasia of Digerati Solutions realized his vision this past week and by happy coincidence contributed to some of the goals of One D as well. Brian developed a concept to bring together smaller firms that are looking for talent (and thereby want to keep talent here) with students from the U of M Engineering School who are looking for an opportunity after school where they can do more than live in a "cube farm".  

This was a win-win-win idea. Small companies had access to an event that leveled the playing field between big and small company. No big, glitzy Boeing exhibit booth next to a small card table with a table cloth. Brian took a more egalitarian approach so small firms wouldn’t be dwarfed by the larger firms.   Students would get exposure to firms that would allow them a wider range of experience and thereby perhaps give them greater entrepreneurial preparation. 

Finally, the region wins if an event like this one –that I hope will be duplicated at other universities---helps move the needle on in-migration or higher retention rates of secondary degree holders. 

In a similar vein,  Darlene Trudell at the Engineering Society of Detroit is doing some amazing work that not only will help us keep some of our secondary degree holders here but will prepare kids in secondary school and earlier for science and science-oriented careers by pairing up the private sector and students. Again, not founders of One D but regional groups and people that will help our progress.  

So I throw the question back to the rest of you. What is your organization doing to close the gap in these areas? Are you doing work that will help the region improve in race relations? Grade level reading?  

One D founders and their boards of directors were never meant to be acting as an island doing work apart from the rest of the region. One D will strive to be inclusive as a movement and incorporate others into the vision for each of the priorities. 

We want to hear from you, so please contact us. What are you doing to get involved?

Post No. 2

Millennials: The Holy Grail of Demographics

I was sitting in a board of directors strategic planning meeting last week for the Michigan Society of Association Executives and we were talking about things we need to be aiming for as an organization, objectives, goals, etc.

I was talking about data. If our data showed definitively what we all suspect--that many of our active members are within earshot of retirement--then we probably need to be talking about how to make membership attractive to the millennials. 


Everyone seems obsessed with them: attracting millennials to the region, keeping college students here after graduation---there’s even a new Young Professionals track at the Mackinac Policy Conference this year. I marvel about how wanted millennials must feel.  

Anyhow, there are two things that strike me in particular about the millenials and the work that we are measuring and tracking with One D.  

First, as it relates to our Race Relations priority, I have been obsessing about what kind of survey results we would get if we developed a race relations perception survey and divided the responses by "under 25" and "over 50". 

I maintain that if you survey people from the region (an appropriate sample size spread among the region geographically and representative of our racial make-up) and ask about status of race relations, levels of interaction, integration, comfort level, etc. you would find a significant difference in the responses. It seems like younger people are more relaxed talking about race and are more apt to be interactive. And to take that one step further, if that is the case, that’s one more reason why this is a desirable group of people to attract to or keep in the region.  The larger the influx of this group, the more improvements you would see in race relations in the region.

Not everyone agrees with me. In fact, one of my bosses disagrees with me. They maintain that it’s institutional. That by going through school and work in this region the divisiveness is enforced and the status quo reigns. I’m curious to hear about how others view this issue.  

Second, I was talking to Kerry Doman, of After Five, the other day about how everyone is obsessing about people her age and we were talking about the Quality of Life priority. 

The One D vision for quality of life centers around arts and culture, parks, greenspaces and healthcare. That seemed pretty representative to me until I spoke with Kerry. She immediately said that if she was asked what Qualify of Life meant to her, she would think of a rich and lively after five (no pun intended) scene--lots of places to go, things to do, people engaging in a lively night life.  

I found this interesting. Quality of Life is pretty subjective for all of us, I guess.    But if we are putting a lot of stock in the millennial population keeping our region healthy, vibrant and growing, I wonder if we need to tweak how we look at this as One D and as a region to coincide with the other goals we have on attracting and retaining this "holy grail" of demographics.

Until tomorrow!

Post No. 1

Just what the heck is One D anyway?

I think there’s a lot of confusion out there about One D so I’m here to set the record straight. 

To be honest, we’re not too concerned that you actually know who we are or what we do. Instead we’d rather you know about the work we care about. 

For instance, we’d rather you know that metro Detroit's "entrepreneurship ranking" is 29 out of 50 ...when compared with other U.S. metro areas (Source: Entrepreneurship Magazine "Hot Cities for Entrepeneuers, 2006"). 

We’d also rather you know that our region ranked 50th out of 50 when compared with other large metro areas in terms of job growth for 2005-2006 (Source: US Census Bureau). 

Furthermore, we’d probably rather you know that according to the 2006 MEAP results, 18% of 6th graders in the tri-county region—not the city of Detroit but the region--- are not reading at their grade level. 

So now that you know all this, maybe I can tell you a little more about how One D fits in and what we hope to accomplish. 

One D is not an organization but a collaborative that is made up of six founding CEO’s:  Doug Rothwell (Detroit Renaissance), Dick Blouse (Detroit Regional Chamber), Larry Alexander (Metro Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau), Maud Lyon (The Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan), Shirley Stancato (New Detroit) and Michael Brennan (United Way for Southeastern Michigan).     

This group came together to eliminate some of the redundancies in the work their organizations were doing individually and to address five priorities identified through extensive community surveying in southeast Michigan. 

What did these survey results reveal? Well, first of all, that people want to see more regional collaboration. But they also identified five particular areas where they would like to see improvement in the region: 

  • regional transit
  • quality of life
  • economic prosperity
  • educational preparedness
  • race relations 

And so the six founders of One D created a vision statement, objectives and supporting strategies for tackling each of these priorities.

For example, one of our objectives in Educational Preparedness is to achieve a rank in the top 10 of 20 largest metro areas with individuals with post-secondary education (our current rank is 18). Both our economic prosperity and our educational preparedness work supports this objective with strategies such as retaining college educated talent in the region through an aggressive, regional internship program or linking college graduations to entrepreneurial opportunities.

Here’s another example, we have an objective to increase the number of third graders who can read at grade level. We often hear (especially from Mike Brennan!) that by third grade you should be reading to learn not learning to read.  So part of One D’s work is to raise awareness about how many kids are not reading at grade level and to continue to measure and report those statistics, to share that information with the region so we can create community will toward changing this problem.  And finally, One D can help facilitate the recruitment and mobilization of volunteers to work with students on a weekly basis as reading tutors in the schools (to find out more on how to get involved click here)

The work we do every day in pursuit of those objectives is really the heart of One D. Our measure of success will not be whether the "man on the street" can identify what One D is, but rather if we can move the needle forward toward achieving those objectives.

Tomorrow I’d like to talk about other ways people can help and tell you about some of the work that others are doing outside of One D.