I live by the philosophy that there’s always work to be done. You’ll hear me praise Ames and Story County over and over again for all that we have to offer – world-class companies, a highly-educated workforce, an outstanding university and community college – overall we have an extremely vibrant and thriving community. To maintain the level of excellence, I’m always looking for ways to build upon what we have here. This is the idea behind the annual Inter-City visit the Ames Chamber of Commerce initiated last May.
In 2016 around 35 individuals representing the public, private and nonprofits sectors in our community traveled to Manhattan, Kansas on a visit coordinated by the Ames Chamber of Commerce. The goal was straightforward: learn how we might apply some of the methods that have been successful in Manhattans’ downtown and Campustown (known as Aggieville in Manhattan) redevelopment to our own marketplace. What kind of local partnerships and collaborations within the Manhattan community are working really well that we might be able to replicate in our community?
The areas we paid special attention to in Manhattan were housing, economic development, university/community relations, diversity, downtown development/redevelopment, workforce and general quality of life amenities. It was interesting to see how Manhattan handled some of the same challenges we face here in Ames and to share what’s working well for us here in our community. During the visit, we toured many different sites including a technology company that decided to base its headquarters in downtown Manhattan and sat down with its leaders to exchange ideas and learn what they are doing to reinvest in their community. It was amazing the impact that company has had by choosing to locate its headquarters in downtown Manhattan!
After the group arrived back in Ames we went through a debriefing session to compare notes and ideas on what might translate well to our community. The main area of focus was on our downtown – the area south of Lincoln Way, housing and working towards bringing more jobs downtown. Manhattan also encouraged us to focus on a more connected trail system. One idea that was directly inspired by the Inter-City visit has already been implemented in our community by the Ames Convention and Visitors Bureau – the Bike Rental System. Maybe you’ve seen the red cruisers parked at local hotels or popular travel destinations. This was something Julie Weeks, Executive Director of the ACVB, noticed Manhattan doing and brought the idea back to Ames. It allows visitors to Ames to explore and get to know our community.
This September another group will head on a similar visit to Columbia, Missouri, home of the University of Missouri. We will meet with leaders in the community to discuss challenges and opportunities their community is facing and see how it compares to Ames and Story County. We’ll take a lot of notes and then compare those to form a plan of action for bettering our own community.
Again, I’d emphasize that visits like these are not an indicator that Ames is lagging. Rather, this is a great way for all of us to share the many exciting projects and programs we are so very proud of with leaders in other communities. I look forward to returning from Columbia with lots of ideas and then getting to work – in continuous pursuit of bettering Ames and Story County.
-Dan Culhane, President & CEO