Every year, I ask Columbia Association’s (CA) board of directors to identify three or four strategic topics for the board members and CA staff to focus on during the next 12 months — big-picture topics that are beyond the work we do every day to make Columbia an even better place to live, work and play.

In compiling these goals, we examine what will happen in Columbia in the near future and discuss how CA’s involvement will add value to the community. In March, the board approved the following four topics.
• CA’s role in the continued redevelopment of Columbia.
• The decline in resident membership and how to address this.
• Participation in the redrafting of land development regulations.
• Getting a better understanding of how to serve and connect with young adults.

Some of these topics are very broad, and we soon will be developing priorities for those topics. Here’s a brief overview of what we’ll be working on.

1. CA’s role in the continued redevelopment of Columbia.
There are three particular areas of the community that CA’s board of directors is focused on regarding redevelopment: the Snowden River Parkway corridor, the Columbia Gateway area and Downtown Columbia.
The discussions related to this topic will be ongoing and will involve a process lasting well beyond 12 months. We will identify our priorities and work to ensure that CA has a “seat at the table” as the plans for redevelopment evolve through the various review steps and phases of implementation. CA should be proactive rather than reactive.

2. The decline in resident memberships and how to address this situation.
There was a time when CA was the sole provider, or one of very few, when it came to its fitness clubs and other related activities. Now there is more competition, in Columbia and in the general area, as well as in the industry overall. We are closely examining the impact on our resident participation, and will continue to analyze the internal and external drivers, taking steps to bring in new members (residents and nonresidents), as well as to retain our existing members (residents and nonresidents).
However, it is not just about the numbers; the quality of the member experience is a priority for all of us at CA. We want to be certain that our members enjoy using our facilities to achieve their health and fitness goals. If we provide a quality experience every time members visit our facilities, then existing members are more likely to remain and to encourage their neighbors to join. As the old adage states: “The race for quality has no finish line.”
We already have taken a number of steps, including simplifying our membership structure and terms. We are implementing the steps of a multi-year, comprehensive plan to renovate and improve our facilities and enhance our programming. Also, we have moved our sales staff into Columbia Athletic Club, Columbia Gym, Haven on the Lake and Supreme Sports Club, recognizing that potential customers will most likely visit these facilities first, rather than CA headquarters.
Beyond that, we realize that our relationship with our members is an essential component of a quality member experience. CA’s JumpStart initiative includes complimentary coaching and fitness sessions when members join, helping them learn more about how to build strength, lose weight or simply get the most out of their membership. CA also hosts new-member events at our facilities, as we have heard from individuals who were not fully aware of all the benefits their membership entails.

3. Participation in the redrafting of land development regulations.
Howard County’s Department of Planning and Zoning is working with a consultant to assist in revising zoning regulations in the county. CA wants to be very engaged in this process, particularly as New Town Zoning is such an integral part of the character — and characteristics — of Columbia.

4. Better understanding of how to serve and connect with young adults.
This topic will continue from the previous year, as CA recognizes a need to learn how we may better serve Columbia’s younger residents, employees and students. CA now has a Millennials Work Group, whose volunteer members held their first meeting in February. I am expecting a report with recommendations by the end of the calendar year.

E-mail milton.matthews@columbiaassociation.org with questions/comments.