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Partnerships key for Columbia Association President Matthews

Milton Matthews took over as president and CEO of the Columbia Association a month ago, so he asks that you forgive that he's not 100 percent up-to-speed on the complex inner workings of CA.

Matthews, 60, however, has a leg up on the average newcomer. He spent nearly 10 years, from 2004 to 2013, as the CEO of the Reston Association – a community organization akin to CA that serves 60,000 residents in the planned community of Reston, Va.

Matthews, who assumed the CA post on June 2, said he sees similarities between the communities – they both have residents elect a board of directors, were founded on social principles of inclusion, are in the process of a redevelopment and are consistently rated top communities to live. There are also differences, however, including their sizes.

"Columbia is a much larger community," Matthews said. "When you look internally, the programs and services we are offering are much more expansive than they are in the Reston community."

Despite the size difference, Matthews said he thinks he can transfer successful business practices employed in Reston to Columbia -- the most prominent being cultivating partnerships.

"One of the big things I've found as a difference from being a city manager and the CEO of a community association is relationship building," he said. "That's a big component of my job: building relationships."

Matthews said he foresees building new, and maintaining old, relationships across all different sectors of the community, including residents, government agencies, downtown developers and local nonprofits. One specific group Matthews noted as sometimes overlooked is the business community, and he plans to change that.

"Every community I've been in, I've gotten involved in the chamber [of commerce]," he said. "The commercial component of our annual charge is 30 percent, so I want to start reaching out more to [the business community]. I want to try breaking those barriers and sending the message that I would like to hear from them and meet with them."

Matthews served on the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce board of directors, and he'd like to serve on the Howard County Chamber of Commerce at some point as well.

Reston Chamber President and CEO Mark Ingrao said he worked closely Matthews, and that Matthews was a "thought leader" who brought valuable perspective to the table.

"He understood the business community needed to be strong, and he understood that and the impact it has on the enterprise of a Reston or a Columbia, " Ingrao said. "He understood the symbiotic relationship between the business community and the residential community."

Tied into servicing the business community, according to Matthews, is development and, in the case of Reston and Columbia: redevelopment. Matthews said he is excited about the planned changes to Downtown Columbia – the construction of the 380-unit mixed-use apartment complex Metropolitan Downtown Columbia, the renovation of the Rouse Company building into a Whole Foods Market and CA wellness club, the redevelopment of Merriweather Post Pavilion and the Inner Arbor Trust's plans to build an arts park on the CA-owned Symphony Woods.

"I see CA as being one of the leading roles in redevelopment," Matthews said. "We aren't going to be building anything, really, but we are representing approximately 100,000 residents.

"Redevelopment and growth is necessary in an area, and it's going to happen anyway, so you need to be a part of it. How can you be a part of it and make sure the core values and founding values of the community are maintained?"

One of the challenges facing Columbia, Matthews said, is similar to a challenge in Reston -- community engagement.

"We need to do a better job, but every community needs to do a better job of engaging their residents," he said. "When I was in Reston, a lot of people knew about the Reston community, but they didn't know about the Reston Association, and that's what I'm seeing here. To me they are tied together: what happens in the Columbia community is tied to the Columbia Association."

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