Leadership Exchange 2010: the balancing act

Editor’s note: In mid-September, 160 community leaders from Denver traveled to Portland, Ore., for the 2010 Leadership Exchange trip, sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation. Over a whirlind three days, executives from business, nonprofit groups and government toured the city and met with some of their counterparts to learn more about the Pacific Northwest city’s success stories and its toughest challenges. The goal was for Denver leaders to bring home new ideas and make connections that can improve the metro Denver region and the state of Colorado. We asked several of the 2010 delegates to share their perspectives on the trip with ColoradoBiz, one of the trip’s sponsors.

As I prepared to travel, I was nervous. I was about to join 160 of Denver’s civic leaders on the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation’s annual Leadership Exchange (LEX) program. The Portland trip was the 21st Annual Trip and my first time participating. I was worried that most of these leaders already knew each other from past trips and that it would be difficult to find a place among them.

The opposite turned out to be the case. I walked up to the Southwest Airlines desk and was met by the wonderful staff of the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation. Before I could get my plane ticket, I was greeted like an old friend by Leanna Clark, co-chair of the trip. I quickly learned that it was easy to talk with the delegation. Everyone was friendly, and most folks had the same goals of networking and learning about Portland. The same camaraderie continued while we were on the plane. Southwest Airlines-a LEX sponsor-greeted us and made us feel welcome.

The LEX delegation arrived in Portland and took the light rail into the Pearl Street District. We took a quick tour and eventually found our way to the Nines Hotel, the host of the Denver delegation during our trip. The Nines is a Sage Hospitality property and is operated by Denver’s own Walter Isenberg and Zack Neumeyer. The Nines, originally a department store, is a beautiful hotel that was converted from a deserted eyesore into a sophisticated and cosmopolitan hotel at the center of downtown Portland.

The best thing about the trip was the opportunity to engage in public policy discussions — both formal and informal — that occurred as a result of the program prepared by Maureen McDonald and her staff. During dinner, drinks and free time, I was able to talk about Denver’s new zoning code with Peter Park and Brad Buchanan. I had discussions with Bill Vidal about I-70 and Eisenhower tunnel and the implications of a study released by the Colorado Department of Transportation that concluded that the state would need to spend upwards of $16 billion to fully fund the proposed improvements along I-70. I had discussions with Lilly Marks, Caz Mathews and Reginald Washington about health care in Denver. I discussed the future of Colorado higher education with Rico Munn, Jamie Van Leeuwen and Nolbert Chavez. The opportunities for social interaction among these amazing people are too numerous to cover here.

Maureen McDonald put together a strong program to present how Portland is dealing with the challenges both of our cities face with sustainability and transportation. We heard from Portland’s Mayor Sam Adams, Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and many others about Portland’s regional strategies. In discussions with them and our own state leaders, including Mayor Hickenlooper and Governor Ritter, we heard about Portland’s ability to address transportation issues on a regional basis through its light rail, street cars and biking programs.

We toured the Nike World Headquarters and learned from other speakers how the Portland metroplex was working to attract outdoor and active apparel manufacturers to the region. We learned about how Portland has grown and what can be achieved by regional cooperation and focusing on sustainability. We also met with members of the business community. They told us taxes were too high — income taxes are among the highest in the country — the biking program is too expensive and Portland does not have a good track record when it comes to attracting and retaining business. Business leaders told us that they do not have a political voice because the political climate was not balanced.

I realized that we could learn a lot from our friends in Portland when it comes to the use of light rail, the construction of street cars and regional cooperation with regard to sustainability. I also came to appreciate the political balance that we have in Colorado and the number of great leaders we have. Our business community works together around common issues.

Everything is not perfect in our city, but we have a lot for which to be thankful. We come together as a result of the leadership of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and programs like the Leadership Exchange, which fosters collaboration among members of our business community. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the LEX Portland trip, but I am even more grateful to live and work in the city of Denver.
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Categories: Management & Leadership