August 2022

by Daniel J. Brooks, Business Advocacy Director

Biannually the Chamber leads an excursion  

Fifty Billings leaders embrace the immersion  

Two days to digest  

A host city's best  

Ideas to make Billings our own better version.  

Every other year, the Billings Chamber hosts its Aspirational City Visit. This whirlwind trip takes 50 Billings leaders to learn best practices and gather inspiration from other cities around the country. The intent is to bring home new ideas and help make Billings the best version of itself. Past trips have taken Billings residents to Sioux Falls, SD, Oklahoma City, OK, Allentown, PA, and most recently, Omaha, NE.  

"Ridiculous engagement," was touted by our hosts as the secret sauce of their economic prosperity, making them a destination for business relocation and growth. The opening reception featured David Brown, the recently retired President and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber, who stressed the necessity of chambers convening community leaders and fostering ridiculous engagement…very apropos, considering the purpose of our presence.  

Over the next day and a half, attendees visited Charles Schwab Field, the home of the College World Series, new business development, the Omaha Zoo and Aquarium, Holland Performing Arts Center, the Old Market, and viewed the housing first homeless shelter, Siena Francis House. The lineup of speakers and the conversations attendees would engage in was even more important than the various venues. Every discussion was incredibly important; I don't have enough column inches to recount them all here. So, I offer a couple of salient takeaways below.  

Ingenuity and imagination are afoot in Omaha…quite literally with respect to the pedestrian bridge named "Bob." Spanning 3,000 feet (officially 0.9k for all you runners) across the Missouri River and connecting Omaha to Council Bluffs, Iowa, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge was once considered a bridge to nowhere. Though, I'm certain Iowans would see it differently if asked. It wasn't until they gave Bob a sarcastic personality, and social media incentives for visitors, that Bob became an attraction. Check out the official Bob the Bridge YouTube channel to get Bob's hot takes on his handsomeness, speedos, and aspirations of becoming famous for just hanging around… "worked for Kim, Khloe, and the uhhhh, the other one."  

It's a simple thing - creatively naming and promoting a bridge - but it speaks to a larger cultural character. An attitude embodied in their tagline, "We Don't Coast." Whether hearing about economic development, facility management, diversity, equity, and inclusion, or public safety, Billings attendees appreciated the common theme of continuous improvement from Omaha leadership.  

It also couldn't be overlooked that our hosts all seemed to be on the same page, rowing toward the next big objective in the same direction. Billings attendees immediately recognized the contrast, noting our "silos" in Billings often holding us back from embracing a similar radical collaboration.  

And THAT is exactly what an Aspirational City Visit is meant to accomplish. The point is not to find ways that Billings can become a facsimile of Omaha, Allentown, Oklahoma City, or Sioux Falls. But to identify areas of improvement so we can make Billings the best version of itself, for ourselves, and for the generations to come. So now we roll up our sleeves and ensure we don't coast.  

Originally printed in the August 2022 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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