August 7, 2008

Visioneers to Spend 3 Days in OKC and Fort Worth

By Jerry Siebenmark, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.

Aug. 7--A group of 50 business, government and civic leaders will be learning next week how two regional cities improved their downtowns and have benefited economically from it.

The three-day trip sponsored by Visioneering Wichita and the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce will take them to Oklahoma City and Fort Worth beginning Wednesday.

Suzie Ahlstrand, the chamber's vice president of community advancement who will be leading the group, said most of the visit will focus on those cities' downtown infrastructure projects and how they boosted their "curb appeal."

The group, consisting of leaders from industries such as construction, health care, banking and aviation, will meet with a variety of downtown developers and city and business leaders in Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

In Oklahoma City they will visit Bricktown and the Ford Center, and learn how a sales tax increase to redevelop downtown led to a $3 billion investment in the area from the private sector.

In Fort Worth, the Wichita group will hear about efforts to improve and take advantage of the Trinity River downtown as well as other downtown development efforts.

"We'll look at how intergovernmental cooperation has allowed two communities to construct some iconic projects and turn those projects into economic development activity that has had a huge economic impact," said Harvey Sorensen, Wichita chamber chairman and a lawyer at Foulston Siefkin.

Sorensen said these trips -- this is the third one -- do more than provide learning opportunities.

They also result in action back home.

For instance, Visioneers who went to Jacksonville, Fla., decided to broaden an area plan for "asset mapping" -- a system to identify public and private work force training programs and the skills area employers need in workers.

That effort was "very much a success," said Keith Lawing, executive director of the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas. "We're starting to see some initial results."

Local health care leaders also were able to highlight their cause for more state funding of graduate medical education at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

A large contingent of health care leaders from Wichita attended last year's city-to-city visit to Jacksonville, Fla.

One of the stops was at the University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville. There, Wichita Visioneers were able to see the community's relationship with its medical school, and how the community was benefiting from research at the school.

More health care leaders were able to talk with local business leaders about their need for additional funding of doctor training, said Ed Dismuke, the Wichita medical school's dean.

The school was successful in getting more funding in the last legislative session.

"It was very fruitful for us," Dismuke said of the Visioneering trip to Jacksonville. "It was sort of an irreplaceable opportunity."

Sometimes, said Wichita State University President Don Beggs, the benefits are not so tangible.

He said on Visioneering's first trip, to Richmond, Va., he learned that a lot of leaders in the community were not aware of all the research activities at the university.

"We hadn't done a good job communicating to them what we do here," Beggs said.

Likewise, Beggs got the chance to meet some young up-and-coming business leaders he might not have met otherwise in Wichita.

"I got to know them better, and you can do that when you're out of your element," he said.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or [email protected]


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