Fifty local business and civic leaders made the trip to Louisville last week for our fifth city-to-city visit.
If any of us needed a reminder that we face some stiff competition in our efforts to attract new companies and the jobs that come with them and, I should hasten to add, keep the ones we already have, we got it straight away. A fact-finding group from Tulsa had also come to town and was staying at the same hotel and meeting with the same community leaders that we were. So, the game is on, the stakes are high, and circumstances are urgent.
Mayor Jerry Abramson told us that over the past 20 years, Louisville developed a "can-do" attitude. Certainly, the things we saw and heard from our hosts were strikingly clear evidence of what a community can do when it gets everybody pulling their oars toward the same horizon.
The businesspeople and the community leaders who spoke to us used words we have heard on every Visioneering trip we've taken so far, words like collaboration, public-private partnership, patience, persistence and vision. Each of those cities has had its set of problems and opportunities, and they had developed their own unique plan for choosing their goals and achieving them. But common to all was inclusiveness and cooperation.
Louisville has had some particularly impressive accomplishments:
* Regional partnerships: There are more than 20 counties across two states that work together, especially on economic development projects.
* Economic development: Since 2005, it has recruited 14 national headquarters, many of them with 100 or more employees. Years ago leaders also worked hard to land a small UPS international shipping hub that grew from a couple hundred employees to more than 25,000 over decades.
* Downtown as destination: Louisville has accomplished so much of its downtown plan that leaders are looking to update it. We saw new streetscapes, museums, an engaging riverfront, a newly expanded convention center and a new arena to make it more competitive.
* Community branding: With funding from three organizations, Louisville embarked upon a long-term research-based branding project that is intended as motivation for their own citizens as well as the wider world.
* Education and work force: Louisville has put in place several initiatives to strengthen education and encourage residents to seek higher levels of education.
* Parks and recreation: Quality of life keeps gaining importance in economic development, and Louisville has two impressive long-term initiatives that enjoy great private sector support.
Another of our hosts said Louisville is a "kick the tires" kind of town. People need to see something and experience it to believe it. That sounds a lot like us and is one reason visits like these can be so valuable. We get to "kick the tires" of different projects and see for ourselves what might work for Wichita.
This trip made me thankful that we began Visioneering Wichita six years ago to lay down a broad-based foundation on which we can build for ourselves the kind of community that we can be proud to call home.
Depending on the point of view we choose, the current economic circumstances of our nation and the special challenges we face here could tear us down or wear us out. Or it could provide the spark for us to take stock of our resources and reinvent ourselves, first in ways that please us, and that are consonant with the things we care about and value.
We are at the moment of truth where people and resources come together, and we need to step out boldly to increase and sustain our momentum.