Regional Leaders Study Practices in Indianapolis

President and CEO, Tulsa Metro Chamber

DISTANCE LEARNING: Area leaders met in Indianapolis to learn about growth and planning. Indianapolis is an example for the nation with its recent success in business attraction and development.

Courtesy Tulsa Metro Chamber

For a second year, the Tulsa Metro Chamber led a delegation of business and government leaders on the What’s Next intercity visit to study best practices in regionalism, economic development, tourism development and quality of life initiatives. Becky J. Frank, chairman and of Schnake Turnbo Frank PR and the Chamber’s 2012 chair-elect, led more than 90 regional leaders during the intercity visit recently to Indianapolis, Indiana, a city that has transformed in the past 40 decades from a relatively small crossroads town surrounded by cornfields into a world class city with a growing regional economy.

The purpose of the What’s Next program is to enable our region’s top civic leaders to identify opportunities to apply lessons learned from other communities in our region to improve our collective economy and quality of life. Intercity visits play a key role in driving public debate about important issues like municipal financing, economic development, education, downtown revitalization and tourism development. A variety of Tulsa area leaders and elected officials joined the chamber in Indianapolis. Attendees included area mayors, Tulsa County representatives, city councilors, area chambers of commerce, hospitality, higher education and business industry leaders.

We quickly learned that much of Indianapolis’ success was due to the dedication of their elected leaders, such as the trip host and former Mayor Bill Hudnut. He realized long ago that whatever Indianapolis was to become, they had to create it themselves, and future generations would need to continue it. We learned about cooperative relationships between the public and the private sectors, based on trust and mutual respect. We also learned about the private sector’s sense of obligation to be involved and take on important projects.

Today, Indianapolis boasts a large urban riverfront park filled with civic assets like public art, museums and a ballpark. Indianapolis has an and an franchise and world-class convention, sports and entertainment facilities. Indy leaders have a defined regional economic strategy and are now confidently pursuing industries related to bioscience, advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics.

The community has also succeeded in transforming their downtown area. Cities across the country look to downtown Indianapolis as a revitalization model. Since 1990, Indianapolis has invested nearly $7.7 billion of public and private funds equaling more than 490 projects in downtown projects through the end of 2009. This is an average of more than $385 million of new investment each year for the past 20 years. Downtown development momentum continues with $2.8 billion of new construction and renovation efforts to be completed by 2013. The return on these investments benefits the entire region with diverse employment options, a larger tax base, enhanced quality of life and increased visitation.

Prior to the 1980s, Indianapolis’s principal industry was manufacturing, which has been displaced by retailing and services. Having made a conscious decision to achieve prosperity through sports, Indianapolis quadrupled its tourism trade and doubled its hotel space during the period 1984–1991. This was largely by hosting amateur sporting events.

Since that period, Indianapolis’ role in the sports arena has magnified. Each major sporting event pumps tens of millions of dollars into the economy and leads to expanded business opportunities, more jobs and increasing tax payments to the city. Tourism and conventions, including the hotel industry, are major economic factors in Indy’s success.

Now that the trip has concluded, attendees and chamber leadership will begin the process of facilitated discussions regarding the trip to examine best practices and lessons learned. Examining Indy’s strengths and challenges has encouraged discussion on the opportunities that remain undiscovered here in Tulsa. While the Tulsa region works to maintain a competitive edge over other regional cities, we understand the importance of using new tools to address our goals of attracting and retaining business and individuals to the Tulsa region.

Mayor Bill Hudnut summarized the work ahead best when he explained that, “Cities are organisms. They grow or die. They don’t stay the same.” The leadership exchange during this trip has further developed a common foundation creating a more cohesive team working to solve problems on behalf of the greater Tulsa region.

Updated 11-09-2011

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