As I See It

Big visions require strategy and time

Updated: 2014-02-05T00:44:18Z

By JIM HEETER

Special to The Star

Learning about another city’s problems and successes gives you a new perspective on — and ideas to take back to — your own community.

That’s the purpose behind the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce annual Leadership Exchange.

For the past 14 years, we’ve taken a delegation of 100-plus Kansas Citians to another region of the country to study that community’s “best practices.” Our most recent Leadership Exchange traveled to Baltimore. In previous years, we’ve visited Charlotte, Indianapolis, Austin, Seattle and more.

Each visit has brought its individual learning, but the most important lessons have been on a macro level.

Successful communities have a plan and stick to it. They start with a vision, create a public/private partnership often led by the business community but also include elected officials, foundations, educators and nonprofits. The elected leaders may come and go, but momentum continues.

The amazing revitalization of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a case in point: it has taken that city 50 years to bring the harbor area back to life. Discussions and planning started in the 1960s; the first attraction — Harborplace — opened in 1980.

Coming up with a plan and sticking to it was the idea behind the KC Chamber’s Big 5 goals. Our metro didn’t have anything resembling a strategic plan for our regional community, so we chose five big ideas designed to create jobs and improve our collective quality of life.

Strategic investment in major infrastructure projects makes the difference. Since the opening of Harborplace in 1980, Baltimore has continued its investment, adding the National Aquarium, Camden Yards, the Maryland Science Center and more. The city is now focusing investment in neighborhoods surrounding the Inner Harbor with a vigorous program of urban revitalization.

Charlotte’s leaders credit construction of their airport as key to their economic vitality. Despite its proximity to the world’s busiest airport in Atlanta, Charlotte’s airport now ranks eighth among U.S. airports in passenger traffic.

That kind of strategic investment in economic development is behind the KC Chamber’s decisions to support construction of the Sprint Center, the sales tax for the new Johnson County Research Triangle, as well as the concepts of a single terminal at Kansas City International Airport and commuter rail for Jackson County.

Being home to a major university/medical center pays big dividends. That was obvious on our trips to Baltimore (Johns Hopkins), Austin (University of Texas) and Seattle (University of Washington).

Kansas City’s urban university, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is flourishing, especially in areas such as entrepreneurship, the arts, health sciences and research and development. Much of the credit for that goes to the leadership of Chancellor Leo Morton and the generosity of KC’s philanthropic community.

What struck me most was the makeup of our Kansas City delegation. The group came from both sides of the state line and included mayors, county executives and other elected officials.

While the purpose of our annual Leadership Exchange visits is to study the best practices of another community, there’s also great benefit in bringing together a diverse group of Kansas City leaders, leaders who understand that the long-term future of Kansas City is a regional one, not purely local.

Jim Heeter of Kansas City is the president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

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