Metro Denver paves the way for regional thinking

The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce chose well for its fourth Strategic Leadership visit, which concluded earlier this week.

"The 2009 visit to metro Denver continued a great tradition of Gwinnett's leaders visiting and learning from our peers in other successful communities," Chamber President/CEO Jim Maran said.

The genius of Gwinnett's Strategic Leadership visits rests in exploring issues facing our community and inviting us to find solutions - across disciplines, sectors, boundaries and local interests.

Included in our delegation were civic and community leaders, business leaders and planners, local and state legislators, economic development experts, county commissioners, mayors, college and school system leaders, Chamber leaders and staff members, and school board members.

In the metro Denver region, nearly 70 Gwinnett leaders found 2.6 million residents concentrated over nine counties and 48 municipal and county governments where the watchwords are "region first, community second."

Our two-day intensive visit allowed us to study how metro Denver's leaders amassed their toolkit of regional accomplishments.

We met metro Denver's thought leaders and experts who solved big problems that had vexed the region, many since the late 1960s. These included water, traffic, suburban sprawl, economic development, business-university partnerships, revitalization, education, tourism, and arts and culture.

We traveled by light rail and bus through the center city and nearby municipalities to revitalized retail shopping malls, sports facilities, train stations, art museums, public schools, medical schools and hospitals. Everywhere, we found evidence of public and private sector leaders successfully solving problems linked to regional economic development.

As Maran pointed out, in Denver we found a regional powerhouse that regularly tops a number of national "best of" lists.

One of the first we met was Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, named one of the five best U.S. mayors by Time magazine. "At the elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level, Denver is a mile high - and climbing," the mayor said as he welcomed us.

Forging partnerships across the metro Denver region accounted for many of the successes that we observed, including:

· Denver Regional Transportation District Chairman Lee Kemp told us of metro Denver's eight-county, 41-year initiative to develop 9,000 miles of roads; a 70,000-mile daily bus transportation system; 122 miles of light rail; and T-Rex, a long distance commuter rail system.

"It takes multiple transportation modes to make an effective transportation system," Kemp told our group.

· Mayor Nancy Sharpe of Greenwood Village told us how 32 mayors worked together to support FasTrack, a light rail line, and sufficient parking for users.

"It makes a very powerful statement when business leaders and local partners team up for a united effort," Sharpe said.

· Sandy Steiner of the Adams County Education Consortium told us how Adams County Economic Development supports the work of the county's public schools, linking education in grades five through 12 to work force preparation and excellence.

"We only work on projects that can be scaled up, are practical and can be replicated," Steiner said.

· Jay Gershen of the University of Colorado-Denver told us how metro Denver used the base realignment and closing of the former Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center to develop 21st century world-class facilities for clinical trials, research, and academic medical health center education.

"The closing gave us an opportunity to develop a $4.3 billion biomedical center, now the home of the University of Colorado Medcial School, Children's Hospital and the soon-to-open Veterans Administration Hospital." Gershen said.

Metro Denver's achievements provide a regional model of cooperation suited to many of the issues, challenges and opportunities facing Gwinnett County.

This fourth trip provided Gwinnett's leaders with choices about smart growth as we seek to position the county's future. Great thanks to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce for its vision in addressing problems that cross governmental boundaries and call out for regional solutions.

Mary Kay Murphy is a school board member representing District 3.