Town Talk | Lawrence and Topeka Leaders Plan Joint Trip to Northwest Arkansas to Study Economic Development and Community Building | News, Sports, Jobs
photo by: Chad Lawhorn / Journal-World photo
It’s not often that a sentence begins with the phrase “if Lawrence and Topeka fell in love with each other 50 years ago.”
But, indeed, that’s the image Matt Pivarnik, chief executive of the economic development organization Topeka Partnership, was asking members of a crowd in Lawrence and Topeka to consider Thursday.
If that love affair had come to fruition, he said, he believed the two cities would have formed a metropolitan area of around half a million people and an economy that would be the envy of many.
“I truly believe that if Lawrence and Topeka had fallen in love a long, long time ago, our two communities would be absolutely better today because of it,” he said.
Well, love might not be in the air yet, but a trip together is on the schedule.
The Topeka partnership and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce held a joint press conference in downtown Topeka on Thursday to announce that a delegation from the two cities will travel to northwest Arkansas to learn more about how in which this growing region leads economic development and community building.
The plans call for leaders of the two economic development organizations, elected officials and “leaders from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors,” to visit northwest Arkansas on October 6 and 8. The area includes Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, as well as tourist destinations like Bella Vista and Eureka Springs.
But its truly remarkable component from an economic development perspective may be its confluence of shipping and logistics companies that have established themselves in the region. Pivarnik said he wanted to know how this region has built these synergies. He believes learning how this region created synergies to build a massive shipping industry could help Lawrence and Topeka in their efforts to create an animal science center along the Kansas River corridor.
Pivarnik believes the trip will highlight the importance of collaboration with neighboring communities, which is why he was delighted to hear that Lawrence was interested in making the trip.
“What they’re doing together is awesome,” Pivarnik said of the dozen communities that make up the Northwest Arkansas region. “When you go there you don’t say you go to Rogers, you don’t say you go to Springdale. You say you are going to Northwest Arkansas.
No one is saying Lawrence and Topeka should have a common identity soon, but Bonnie Lowe, CEO of The Chamber, said she and other Lawrence executives were eager to make the trip with Topeka.
“Lawrence has never done one before,” Lowe said of an official inter-city visit to study economic development and community building. “So it’s a perfect training ground for us too to learn how to do that.”
Lowe said she might consider Lawrence and Topeka working more closely on other initiatives in the future.
“I hadn’t fallen in love 40 or 50 years ago; I feel like we’re engaged now, ”Lowe said with a laugh. “There’s a wedding just around the corner, so we’re getting closer.”
I then asked Lowe if she had any ideas for other types of projects the two communities could work on together. She told me “to come back in mid-October”. Lowe and Pivarnik said one of the most important parts of the trip would be for community leaders from both cities to spend a lot of time together. Lowe said she expected several elected officials from Lawrence and Douglas County to make the trip. Lawrence Mayor Brad Finkeldei and Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla attended Thursday’s press conference. Lowe also said the House will compile a list of other interested stakeholders in the community who wish to be part of the travel group.
“The intention is to be inclusive,” Lowe said.
She said anyone interested in receiving more information about joining the trip should contact the House at 785-865-4411.