A free trip for 4 to Chattanooga

Janet Miller compares raising almost $5,000 in 90 minutes to hitting a slot machine jackpot.

Miller, a Wichita City Council member, hit it big last week when she floated an e-mail idea to send four of Wichita's young professionals to Chattanooga, Tenn.

An idea that began with requests for $100 from the city leaders who made the October Visioneering trip to Chattanooga toward a $2,500 goal "just blew me away," Miller said.

She raised $4,850 — enough to link members of the Wichita Metro Chamber's Young Professionals and ROK ICT with CreateHere, a Chattanooga group that blends the arts and business in a community outreach.

"I usually have that feature on my computer that makes a noise when an e-mail comes in off," Miller said. "But not last week, and it was like sitting in front of a slot machine."

The trip is tentatively scheduled for December. The remaining $2,350 will be used as a scholarship for a young professional for next year's Visioneering city-to-city tour.

"I told everybody it really made me feel too big for my britches," Miller said. "My hope would be that the young people come back on fire and inspired to take the work each of their groups have been doing and add this new component to it."

Visioneering Wichita chairman Jon Rolph agreed.

"It's incredibly encouraging to go see something in Chattanooga or these other cities that really sparks your imagination of how something like that could look in Wichita," he said.

"It's clear that the broad group of participants on the trip shared that spark and are willing to help send another group of people out there."

Corporate sponsors for the trip include Spirit AeroSystems and Hutton Construction.

"We're just super-excited about this program and about what we saw in Chattanooga," said Ben Hutton, Hutton Construction vice president. "We're active in other economic development ventures around Wichita, and we're excited about this one."

Another participant in the Chattanooga trip, Intrust Bank executive vice president Gary Schmitt, suggested Miller should be turned loose on another Chattanooga-based project: raising the capital to bolster the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. to match Chattanooga's 12-member River City Co.

"A thousand people in Wichita writing a check for $1,000 each," Schmitt said, chuckling.

"If Janet can do this, then think of what she could raise on a project like that."