Visiting other cities allows you to see the lessons they've learned first-hand, and apply smart decision making to your own community. Benchmarking is also an excellent way to find out what you're doing right, and why your own city is a great place to live.
With a goal to look at innovative solutions in other communities, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama takes members, community leaders, and elected officials on a benchmarking trip each year designed to spur ideas, spark innovation, and create positive collaborative change.
More than 90 businessmen and women, elected officials, and community leaders traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, June 15 for the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama's annual Benchmarking Trip.
Chosen for its nationally-recognized economic growth, successful public-private partnerships, cultural health, and growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, Lexington features an urban county form of government, ranks 10th among U.S. cities in college education rate, and is home to a fellow SEC school, the University of Kentucky. The delegation felt Lexington was the perfect delegation for the group's second benchmarking trip.
"New relationships were created, existing relationships were strengthened, and countless one-on-one conversations were had that will pay serious dividends going forward," said Chamber President and CEO Jim Page.
The event kicked off Sunday evening with a reception at Creaux, a New Orleans-inspired cocktail bar in downtown Lexington. During the reception, Bob Quick, President and CEO of Commerce Lexington, gave attendees a "big picture" overview of Lexington; sharing both the history of the city and plans for the future.
More than 70 Chamber members and community leaders traveled to Greenville, South Carolina, July 23-25, for the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama's inaugural benchmarking trip.
Chosen for how Greenville has embraced smart growth, downtown redevelopment and a knowledge-based, entrepreneurial economy, participants heard from individuals directly responsible for Greenville's transformation, and were inspired to apply those successes in West Alabama.
"I think it was a great trip and I really enjoyed visiting Greenville," said Bruce Higginbotham, Northport City Engineer and Interim City Administrator. "It was very informative, and we learned a lot from them. I was especially interested in hearing how they transformed themselves through the years.
Higginbotham said Greenville's transformation wasn't an overnight process, but the city's commitment created a great living environment for residents.
"In a lot of ways, Northport is in a similar position. The City has tremendous assets and is a growing community," he said. "We can improve our community by highlighting these assets and moving forward in a planned, proactive way."
Speakers for the benchmarking trip included public officials, elected representatives and entrepreneurs from the area. All discussed the transformative atmosphere in the community. Greenville's once-dormant city center has now become a national model for downtown redevelopment.
Those who attended the Benchmarking Trip said they got a great deal out of it, including Chris Gunter of Buffalo Rock/Pepsi-Cola, who said the trip generated a great deal of excitement.
"I think that we made a statement as a community as to how important it truly is to take the city to the next level," Gunter said. "The mayor, the city of Tuscaloosa, and the city of Northport have done a fantastic job of laying out plans. But what we've learned from Greenville is, 'How can we get on board with those plans as a community and how can we get on board as a private investor?'"
City of Northport Planning Director Scott Stephens said Greenville is a great case study of a plan put into action.
"It's great to see how committed citizens and community leaders can work together to bring their vision for their city into reality," Stephens said. "We saw examples of how the City of Greenville provided effective economic development, arts and tourism, parks and greenspace, and more, all to the benefit of their citizens."
Prior to returning to Tuscaloosa, participants met to share their thoughts on the trip and discuss ways to apply lessons learned in Greenville to challenges in West Alabama. Attendees agreed takeaways should include Greenville's intentional planning with respect to the use of their available funds. Mayor Walt Maddox said the City of Tuscaloosa should take advantage of low-hanging fruit, including cosmetic improvements such as signage, it should also look at the long-term process.
"The planning process works, but it takes time," Maddox said. "We're very good, but do we want to be great?"
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