S.P.I.R.I.T. Executive Director Jack Taylor visits with President and CEO of Kansas Leadership Center Ed O’Malley during the Thursday morning Southwest Kansas Economic Summit in Garden City. Daily Leader photo/Jessica Crawford
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
Southwest Kansas Chambers of Commerce brought together government officials, business individuals and non-profit agencies in an effort to discuss regionalization in Southwest Kansas. Those from Liberal, Dodge City, Garden City and all points in between were present.
Speakers for the morning conference included Senator Steve Morris, Charles W. Fluharty, President and CEO of Rural Policy Research Institute in Columbia, Mo., Patty Clark, USDA Rural Development State Director, and Ed O’Malley, President and CEO of Kansas Leadership Center.
“We need to get rid of ‘we’ and ‘they’ and find new definitions for that,” Fluharty said regarding moving towards becoming a region rather than communities working independently.
“The need for wiser public choices has never been greater,” he added. “This region is rich, it is not innovating efficiently on the capital it is sitting on. We know the future, regionally, globally. Rural regions must do what you are here today to talk about.”
Clark encouraged Southwest Kansas leaders to bring legislators to the area in order to better educate them on Southwest Kansas culture and economy.
“I would encourage you to invite some of the urban legislators out to Southwest Kansas,” she said. “They cannot relate, they cannot have a touch stone to what you are and who you are and what you potentially bring to the Kansas economy without understanding the landscape and feeling and touching it themselves.”
Clark added that there is no longer room for error regarding public decisions.
“Wiser public choices are required,” she said. “There is no more latitude for mistakes because the resources are shrinking. Wiser, calculated strategic decisions are required.”
Every bit of progress made in the Southwest Kansas area, Clark said, is economic development – which is needed in order to move forward to regionalization.
“Everything you do, every regional based effort, every community effort and county effort is economic development,” she said. “Education is economic development. Recreation is economic development. Arts and culture are economic development. Infrastructure is economic development. Downtown redevelopment is economic development. Everything you do is economic development.”
In conclusion, Clark asked Southwest Kansas communities to be certain they are not doing more harm than good.
“Make sure your sense of place is an asset not a liability,” she said. “Make sure when you think of your sense of place, it is a springboard not a barrier. You have to sometimes shed that strong dedication to your immediate surroundings for the broader good.”
Through research performed in 2007, O’Malley shared what qualities Kansans believe their leaders should possess in order to bring progress to the state.
“In Southwest Kansas, what kind of leadership will it take to make progress on deep, daunting challenges?” he asked. “Kansans said we need a type of leadership that is much more purposeful than we are currently getting in Kansas. The real work, as we all know, doesn’t actually happen here. It happens in the small decisions and the small things you do as an individual back in your community, your organization and your government. This is just a conversation, this isn’t actually where the real hard work takes place.
“The second thing Kansans told us was that they need a type of leadership that is far more engaging than we currently have,” he continued. “Genuine engagement and learning from one another, is what Kansans are asking for.
“The third thing Kansans told us is we need a type of civic leadership that is far more provocative in order to make progress,” he explained. “Kansans can just be too darn nice to each other. To really make progress, it is going to raise the heat a little bit. If we are afraid of surfacing conflict, we will never make progress. We have to be willing to be more provocative. That doesn’t mean to have conflict for conflict’s sake. It means to surface the issues that are prohibiting us from going forward. There is something about Kansas culture that makes us want to minimize conflict. This will be disorienting to your constituents and will take a special kind of leadership to actually lead them into progress.
O’Malley ended his address with an offer to help the region if needed and gave the regionalization efforts the blessing of the Kansas Leadership Center.
“If the Kansas Leadership Center can help you, we will,” O’Malley concluded. “We are inspired by your efforts here as well.”