Olathe, Kansas Chamber’s Study Tour of Denton

Published on: Sun, Sep 09, 2018

There is an ancient saying that originated in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. It comes from the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verse 9. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

While not based specifically on the Ecclesiastical quote, a similar sentiment is widely embraced in the business world. The overlapping concept is that whatever project is under consideration, whatever new step is being weighed, whatever challenge is being faced, someone else has been there already. So why not get a head start and learn best practices, pitfalls and successes from those who have already traversed them?

We call it market research. Benchmarking. More recently, people are using the term R&D, a tongue-in-cheek play on “research and development” to mean “ripoff and duplicate.” Everyone laughs when a colleague talks about R&D. It’s a clever play on a business acronym and something every one of us does.

R&D is what Michael Wilkes says brought him to Denton August 30-31. Michael is the City Manager of Olathe, Kansas. He was one of the three-member scout team. CEO Tim McKee and COO Brad Cornell of the Olathe Chamber of Commerce were the other two. They were scouting on behalf of a 12-person Olathe delegation that will be here October 17-19, because Denton is on their list.

It started in Olathe a few years back when the Chamber organized a retreat that some 100 city leaders now attend each year. City administration, the Mayor and City Council, County officials, economic development leaders, convention and visitors bureau officials, school district officials – they are all there. Now, Olathe is on a mission to assess their assets across the board against like cities. The primary criteria for a “like city” is similar population, suburban in a metropolitan region and the County seat. From there, they narrowed the field by individual city amenities, statistics, recognition and media coverage. Then, they connected with fellow Chambers of Commerce to put feet to their plan.

Now each year, an Olathe delegation visits one of the cities singled out as the most excellent to study. This is year five, and Denton is the target.

The scout team lodged at the Embassy Suites and Denton Convention Center. It turns out Olathe’s convention center dream-finally-reality is quite like Denton’s. Theirs finished like ours did, with an Embassy Suites and Convention Center.

Their whirlwind scout expedition featured a Denton tour including our industrial parks, airport and downtown. As their hosts, the Denton Chamber of Commerce arranged meetings with Mayor Chris Watts, Mayor Pro Tem John Ryan and City Manager Todd Hileman.

Olathe’s interests are broad. They talked Chamber, tourism, hotel development, economic development, workforce development, corporate businesses, retail, driving industries, university and community relationships. And they consciously observed nuances to absorb our vibe, Denton’s sense of place.

In the Shawnee language, Olathe means beautiful. It is 20 miles southwest of downtown Kansas City, right up the road about 500 miles off of I-35. Their population is about 137,000. Denton’s is 136,000 and some change. Denton is Denton’s county seat like Olathe is the seat of Johnson County, Kansas. Denton is home to the Denton State Supported Living Center and Olathe to the Kansas State School for the Deaf.

One thing they over-estimated about our likeness was Denton’s “suburbanness.” During their visit, the scouts honed in with envy on downtown Denton’s commerce, mix-use development, vibrancy and foot traffic. They commented on Denton’s non-burb spirit they defined as “having a unique identity.” Translation? Denton is original and independent.

When they return in October, the scouts will have the rest of the leadership team in tow: the Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem, Olathe ISD Superintendent, Chamber board chair, Convention & Visitors Bureau Director, and Economic Development Corporation representatives.

Tim McKee says the scout team identified Denton’s assets on which the full delegation will focus: the Chamber of Commerce’s successful structure; the Chamber’s role as a satellite office to DFW’s Regional Small Business Development program; tourism; the live-work-play success in downtown Denton; workforce development partnerships with the Denton ISD; city park assets; economic development recruiting and incentive strategies.

They’ll cover a lot of Denton in a couple of R&D days. They’ll find things they love that we do well to emulate in Olathe. In turn, their perspectives will tell us how “people out there” see Denton.

You know the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”? Well, it is. We at the Denton Chamber of Commerce will tell you it is also validation that what our organization does is working: “providing leadership on key issues that impact economic growth, educational excellence, quality of life, and diversity of the Denton community.”