Opinion Columns & Blogs

Help community realize its potential

In March of this year, Volkswagen announced it had selected Chattanooga, Tenn., as the home for its new North American manufacturing plant. As you can imagine, this was very good news for the town of 170,000. It's expected to bring 11,500 new jobs and more than $500 million in capital investment. It's especially gratifying to a community that Walter Cronkite declared "the dirtiest city in America" on his national newscast a few decades ago.

What brought about this transformation? It was this question that led Visioneering Wichita to choose Chattanooga for our city-to-city visit this year.

Members of the business community made up two-thirds of the group, along with mayors and City Council members from Wichita and the surrounding area, county commissioners, educators and representatives from both the arts and social services. All shared the common purpose of helping our community realize its fullest potential.

In the 1980s, Chattanooga had reached a low point. Concerned citizens and community leaders began to take steps to create a new vision. They inventoried their strengths, and empowered their community to make changes. Downtown became the focal point for the effort. The heart of the city had become a place where no one wanted to go.

Through careful planning and generous support, they began to create a strategy to transform this area into an exciting, energetic place where people of all ages would want to live, work and play. Today, corporations are locating new headquarters in downtown. Residents and visitors will find the world's largest freshwater aquarium, a children's discovery center, a first-class American art museum, retail shops, restaurants, parks, green spaces, condos, apartments and, most important, people.

The most exciting thing we found there wasn't the transformation of the skyline, but something in the less visible world of spirit and pride. The people of Chattanooga have been transformed because they faced seemingly insurmountable problems and have enjoyed success. They seem to be empowered by what they have accomplished together and are ready for more.

There is something wonderfully compelling in being with people who have an infectious love for their home.

We came back to Wichita encouraged. We recognize that our community already has taken the first significant steps in creating this kind of dynamic future for ourselves. With the participation of 16,000 of our fellow citizens in the Visioneering Wichita process, we have taken a detailed look at where we are and where we want to go. We know that we already have attractions and assets here that will be the building blocks of a truly great place to live and work and raise our families.

If we believe in ourselves and are faithful to one another, all those who contribute, in whatever way they can, will share in the pride of what we have created together.