Blake Johnson grew up surrounded by farmland in Daleville, a town of fewer than 2,000 people nearly an hour northeast of Indianapolis. The first time he came to the city was with his dad, who brought him to an Indians game.
“My primary source of entertainment was sticks, rocks and chasing farm animals,” said Johnson, 32. “I never had a point of reference for what a city was like. There’s an energy here I could recognize as a kid.”
Johnson’s new job, as president of Indy Hub, is all about trying to make sure Indianapolis residents in their 20s and 30s seize that energy. Johnson is also a Democratic member of the Indianapolis City-County Council.
What attracted you to this role?
It’s about lifting people up and finding ways to empower folks. I’ve been in love with this city for as long as I can remember. An opportunity where I can be right at the middle of helping folks identify passions, leveraging their passions, seemed like a good opportunity.
What is the mission of IndyHub?
IndyHub is laser focused on ensuring the 20- and 30-somethings in the city are connected to one another, to opportunities to give back, and ultimately have the opportunity to shape the city looking forward. That’s everything from events that are geared toward networking with folks in this age group across industries, educating about what challenges we’re facing, and developing leaders to take on roles where they’ll be able to forge what the city’s future looks like.
Mayor Joe Hogsett ran a campaign that was focused on trying to improve Indianapolis neighborhoods. Does IndyHub share that goal, or is it mainly focused on connecting people to opportunities downtown?
Downtown is great, but there are other places to form memories, raise a family and that’s a big part of what we do now—ensuring folks see the city for the patchwork of awesomeness that it is.
I think there’s a cool urban pioneer thing happening where we have neighborhoods struggling with poverty and crime, and throughout my time on the council, I’m meeting people who are moving into these re-emerging neighborhoods and getting involved and making them their own. For the folks who are doing it, it’s perhaps the most meaningful and rewarding experience. Being part of the solution instead of admiring the problem.
Indianapolis residents tend to have an inferiority complex when it comes to attracting young professionals. How do you break out of that?
We have so much to be very proud of. It’s not time to be humble. All the things you would hope for in a big city, we have—and on top of that, we have the best people in the world living here. We don’t have mountains and oceans, no big deal.
We are an uncommon city with extraordinary things ahead of us. Every time we continue to allow this sleepy-city thing to happen, we’re not doing ourselves favors. That is not who we are anymore. It’s our job to continue pushing forward and tell the story of how great we are.
What are some of your goals for IndyHub?
I think there’s an opportunity to expand IndyHub’s pursuit of helping place 20- or 30-something-year-olds on city boards and commissions, in elected office and in opportunities where you’re shaping the city and making the big decisions.
Also, we’ve got a cohort of folks every year graduating from [local] colleges, making choices about where they’re going to go. How do we ensure an immediate connection with those folks to show just how special this city is, that they can launch their career here rather than going to some other city that won’t be as good, anyway?•