Regionalism isn’t just an idea

By Walt Braun

Leaders from Manhattan, Wamego and Junction City didn’t quite solve the region’s problems during their weekend retreat, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t get some good work done.  And if some of the ideas they generated don’t sound electrifying, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth pursuing.

Developing more community pride and identifying and supporting future leaders, for instance, were among issues that Manhattan leaders surfaced. The former, often intangible, is easy to overlook. But the need for it shows up in a variety of ways, including the amount of litter along some of our thoroughfares and even along walking trails that turns them into eyesores. As for visionary leadership, it’s always in demand, yet often innovative individuals with terrific ideas and abilities are reluctant to come forward.

Greater regional collaboration can only improve the economy and quality of life in the Flint Hills. Each of the three cities has much to offer, but as a region we have the potential to be even more dynamic. Ty Warner, executive director of the Flint Hills Regional Council, was right in saying, “The issues we hold in common are much stronger than the things that divide us,” yet competition among the three cities sometimes thwarts collaboration.

That transportation was an issue at the retreat was no surprise. Although the Manhattan City Commission killed a proposed fixed-route bus system, it could become even more important as the city grows and as collaboration grows among neighboring communities. Not only did Mayor Jim Sherow express support for it, but so did Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz, Fort Riley’s commander, Gen. William C. Mayville, and the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

A bus system isn’t the only form of transportation of importance. Among Manhattan’s priorities for the 2012 Legislature are ensuring continued funding for highway projects, especially K-18, and gaining lawmakers’ support to expand the Manhattan Regional Airport. “We’re looking for the state to recognize our potential to grow the airport,” said Assistant City Manager Jason Hilgers, noting that service in recent years has expanded impressively.

Retreats such as the weekend gathering are useful not just for the ideas they generate and the networking that occurs, but because they have the potential to re-energize individuals and create momentum to transform ideas into realities. Follow-through is more difficult than discussion, but it’s the best gauge of how successful a given retreat is.

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