Looking beyond the Bluegrass

By Chad Carlton, Building Kentucky

When you grow up in a special place like Kentucky, it’s easy to limit our gaze to the place we call home. After all, what could be better than living, working and playing here?

Fortunately for our state’s future, leaders in business, civic and government sectors are looking beyond the Ohio River, the Appalachian Mountains and the Tennessee line for great ideas, next-level thinking and cautionary tales.

A couple of weeks ago, I joined about 200 leaders for a three-day trip to Indianapolis sponsored by Greater Louisville Inc., the Louisville chamber of commerce. The annual GLIDE trip has been drawing inspiration – and sharing Louisville’s successes – in cities across the country for decades now.

This week, I’m spending a few days in Austin, Texas, with another 200 leaders from Commerce Lexington to see what’s working here and what good ideas we can steal, er, study.

The challenges that we’re facing in cities and towns across America are more similar than distinct – workforce and jobs, division and dissension, homelessness, drug abuse and more. So it makes sense to share tips and build alliances to make our communities stronger.

Despite having clients in the Indy market for years, I learned a lot from the visit: how philanthropy from the Lilly Foundation and other powerhouses has helped propel the city’s amenities, how becoming the amateur sports capital of the country has lured young professionals and how much we have in common when it comes to racial disparity.

For the past five years, I’ve been visiting Austin to see our daughter, a recent University of Texas graduate. I’m familiar with the transportation woes that come with explosive growth and understand better how infrastructure is a need that you delay at your own peril. But I also have seen how the acceptance of different cultures, values and lifestyles has made Austin a magnet for major companies like Dell, Google and Tesla and attracted young professionals from across the globe.

I’m eager to learn more as we meet with Texas government, civic and business leaders this week over brisket and beer.

But what I’m enjoying most about spending time with Kentucky leaders from across the state is the relationships I’m building with people who care deeply about our Commonwealth, our cities and towns. They realize that we can’t keep what’s special about our state by standing still or looking with a longing gaze at the past.

The future is coming whether we like it or not. If we understand our options, we have a better chance of charting a future that holds onto the very best we have and improves it with smart ideas from people who feel just as strongly about their homeplaces.

And just so you know, I’ve been inviting the people I’ve met on these trips to visit Kentucky, to enjoy our burgoo and bourbon and to learn from our many successes. That’s just the way I was raised.

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