The 10th annual Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce City-to-City trip to Greenville, S.C., was focused on learning best practices for growth, urban and community engagement, and innovation.
Everyone we met in Greenville is proud of their city and the progress it has made over the past 15 years. They have a vision and recognize the importance of a vibrant downtown, workforce development efforts from grade school through college and collaborative economic development efforts across the South Carolina Upstate region.
We received an overview of Greenville’s “30-year overnight success” story. Mayor Knox White has shown strong leadership in his 20 years as mayor. He talked about decisions that were unpopular but necessary to transform Greenville into what it is today.
Our walking tour of downtown showed the transformation of a city using streetscapes, creating walkability and ensuring a welcoming, clean and safe environment. A linear park connected with fantastic pedestrian bridges along the Reedy River and Falls Park show how a river can come to life.
Wichita has a wonderful river with its own unique place – the Keeper of the Plains Plaza – which we need to better highlight as part of our downtown. River Vista is a step in that direction.
Greenville, once known as the Textile Capital of the World, recognized that textile manufacturing was moving overseas. This situation parallels changes in the aviation sector.
Greenville transformed itself from a major textile-manufacturing center to a major player in attracting companies such as BMW and Michelin.
Mayor White’s goal to make Greenville “the most beautiful and livable city in America” is evident in his emphasis on neighborhood revitalization, economic development and transformational projects for downtown. He provided great insights into the importance of intentionality as we continue to develop our downtown.
He emphasized the importance of creating great places where people want to return. The formerly blighted downtown Greenville is now a unique place with its own personality. We discovered over 150 restaurants – unfortunately we couldn’t eat at all of them – privately funded public art, vibrant retail spaces, and a linear walking and biking park along the river accented by water walls, an amphitheater and an old manufacturing building that has been turned into an open air public venue.
We need to continue to support Wichita Downtown Development Corporation’s revitalization efforts. The renovation of Union Station is one example. Even for those who don’t think downtown matters, know that Wichita cannot survive by being a suburb to nowhere.
In a discussion of the region’s workforce development efforts, the speakers talked extensively about collaboration between education and industry and the importance of ensuring a workforce pipeline – from grade school through college. Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research is a true model for university and industry collaboration.
The efforts of Wichita State University in developing its Innovation Campus, as well as the efforts of USD 259, Butler County Community College and Wichita Area Technical College, show great promise in workforce development.
We toured the NEXT Innovation Center, the Greenville Chamber’s award-winning economic development program that supports early-stage entrepreneurial companies in the Upstate region of South Carolina. The program began in 2006 as a part-time program with eight software entrepreneurs. Today, NEXT supports more than 150 early-stage entrepreneurs.
Wichita’s Entrepreneurship Task Force has made great strides in bringing together a group of liaisons interested in reinvigorating our entrepreneurial spirit. NEXT is a model we should study.
The general consensus of the group was that there are many initiatives in Wichita on which we need to build. With communication among organizations, collaboration across the region and focused leadership, our efforts can propel us to continue to revitalize downtown, develop our workforce and engage in cooperative economic development across the region.
We have all the pieces to accomplish many of the things we saw in Greenville, but with our own uniqueness and personality.
Cindy Claycomb, Ph.D., is director of Wichita State University’s Ventures and assistant to the president for Strategic Planning.
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