Every year at the regional chambers of commerce retreat — the annual gathering in Overland Park that involves business leaders from Riley, Geary and Pottawatomie counties — a popular theme is working together to move forward.

People talk about regionalism and promoting our area to the rest of the country and how we need to build on our strengths.

It tends to be an interesting weekend full of brainstorming and discourse, but ultimately, it’s just talk.

This week, area leaders who’ve banded together to form the Greater Manhattan Project unveiled an extensive community assessment. It’s the first concrete step in a bigger plan for the three-county region.

A steering committee of about 50 area leaders has been meeting for months and working with a consulting firm, Market Street Services, to research the region’s strengths, weaknesses and areas of potential. They released a 79-page report available online at greatermanhattanproject.com.

Some of the findings were not surprising: most people know, for example, that ours is a young, transient community with lots of students and soldiers; the economy is heavily influenced by K-State and Fort Riley; and people perceive the cost of housing here as high.

Some of the company’s findings were surprising, though. It found that in the region, K-12 education performance was not as high as the public believes it to be. And degree attainment levels were lower than in comparison regions.

Those might not be popular conclusions. But Market Street CEO J. Mac Holladay said Monday his company would try to identify problems and find solutions even if people didn’t necessarily want to hear them. That’s the only way to have true progress, and we hope that we will benefit from the assessment of an outside source.

In the coming months, the group will look more specifically into certain sectors create strategies to go forward. They plan to tap into more opportunities related to the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, for instance. And they will look to attract more retail to the area so that the economy is less reliant on the public sector.

Market Street compared the Manhattan area to three other “benchmark” communities: Fort Collins, Colorado; Columbia, Missouri; and Ames, Iowa. The consultants admitted that these cities were somewhat aspirational, but why not aim high, right?

It takes vision and initiative to create change on a large scale, and it seems that the Greater Manhattan Project is on its way to doing just that. The group appears to be seeking input from all over the region and working slowly to set common goals and find a solid path toward them.

We applaud the steering committee and all those involved for taking a real step toward regional progress.

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