What makes other cities great? How do we ensure Wichita is on the right path? How do we find best practices and customize them for Wichita and our region?
The Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce has coordinated visits to other cities to stimulate trade and exchange ideas many times in the past 100 years. In the past 11 years, we’ve taken more than 240 area leaders on trips to learn from cities including Richmond, Va.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Oklahoma City; Fort Worth; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; Pittsburgh; Omaha; Des Moines; Austin, Texas; Greenville, S.C., and Nashville, Tenn.
The cities’ success stories revealed some themes that consistently stood out to our community leaders.
1. Regional economic development: These communities approached economic development not as isolated cities but as whole regions. Having a coordinated plan to attract and retain businesses and talent was a recurring theme.
Wichita’s implementation: Groups like the Allegheny Conference and Greater Des Moines Partnership provided models for the Greater Wichita Partnership – our approach to regional economic development that focuses on coordinated strategies for intended outcomes.
2. Riverfront development: Successful cities had an active riverfront that included retail, commercial, residential, hotel and entertainment properties.
They were developed with density and mixed use in mind, and developers adhered to a cohesive design vision.
Wichita’s implementation: Current progress includes the construction of River Vista and the Advanced Learning Library. Supporting initiatives like the STAR bond district that was approved in December can help us continue to make progress.
3. Entrepreneurship and innovation: Many of the cities had, at one point, reached a crisis that led to reinventing their economic base.
A key in each of those reinvention stories was a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation.
Wichita’s implementation: Omaha, Des Moines and Austin provided models for an accelerator program, and last year the e2e Accelerator launched. We need to continue advancing our entrepreneurship ecosystem to support existing programs and generate new ways to support entrepreneurs at all stages.
4. Vibrant downtown: In some cities, a vibrant downtown required infrastructure investment in sports stadiums or convention centers.
In others, it was public and private investment in mixed-use development. And in some it was focusing on improvements like streetscaping and urban place-making.
The bottom line was that having a vibrant downtown was vital to regional success.
Wichita’s implementation: After visiting Oklahoma City in 2008, area leaders committed to partnering with Wichita Downtown Development Corp. on developing and executing a Downtown Master Plan. We need to celebrate the success built over the past 10 years and continue to encourage development that brings even more people downtown to live, work and play.
5. Workforce development: All of the communities had at least one entity focused on workforce development, including advocating for successful K-12 systems, developing jobs programs for youth and retraining technical talent, as just a few examples.
Wichita’s implementation: Our most recent trip to Nashville inspired Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell to set a lofty goal of working with the business community, spearheaded by the Workforce Alliance, to provide at least 1,000 summer jobs for youth to help develop their soft skills and create a stronger pipeline to retain our young talent.
Every community had a unique combination of factors that contributed to its success. In addition to the five themes above, we also continually learned about the importance of quality of life, the health care industry, public transportation and attracting and retaining young professionals.
Perhaps most important, we learned a city’s residents need to be its best cheerleaders. Everyone has the opportunity to either help or hurt our image.
Join the #ILoveWichita movement and support one of the forward-focused initiatives above, or look into joining us for the 2017 trip to Raleigh, N.C., on Sept. 18-20.
Suzy Finn is director of community advancement and Young Professionals of Wichita at the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at email@example.com.
Specific trip outcomes
▪ 2008 Oklahoma City: Focused on developing and implementing the Downtown Master Plan
▪ 2009 Chattanooga: Sent four local YPs to participate in Create Here – a community marketing plan development workshop
▪ 2010 Louisville: Created a local bank consortium to finance riskier development projects
▪ 2011 Pittsburgh: Initiated the Priority Project to identify top community priorities
▪ 2012 Omaha: Developed the Entrepreneurship Task Force, an initiative of the Leadership Council (now Greater Wichita Partnership)
▪ 2013 Des Moines: Refocused on regional approach to economic development with the eventual creation of the Greater Wichita Partnership
▪ 2014 Austin: Created a local entrepreneurship accelerator program, launching the e2e Accelerator in 2016
▪ 2015 Greenville, S.C.: Generated community buy-in for inclusion and diversity programming
▪ 2016 Nashville: Renewed emphasis on inclusion and diversity, quality of life, and summer jobs for youth as critical elements in a comprehensive talent strategy