Fayetteville, Arkansas

A group of Mankato business leaders will be visiting Fayetteville, Arkansas, in October to study areas including affordable housing, talent recruitment and recreational facilities. It is part of the Inter-City Leadership Visit sponsored by Greater Mankato Growth. Photo courtesy Arkansas Public Radio.

MANKATO — When a group of about 80 Mankato leaders visit Fayetteville, Arkansas, in October they hope to find some ideas from the larger city about four priorities this area is focusing on: affordable housing, attracting and keeping workers, regional recreation opportunities and making the area destination for visiting, working and living.

Dan Bruss, who is leading this year's Inter-City Leadership Visit process, said they looked at about 20 communities across the country as possible visit sites. He said Fayetteville was chosen for a few reasons.

"One is that they think about themselves not just as a city but more regionally. They work on helping each other out. That's something Mankato is moving toward and I think they can help give us some ideas on that."

He said, like Mankato, Fayetteville is somewhat isolated from major cities. "The nearest major city is an hour-and-a-half away, but they've been able to build a really good economy."

Bruss said the Arkansas community also has a very strong philanthropic component that adds to the quality of life and attracts residents, visitors and workers.

"And the other thing that struck me was that I talked to a lot of people in the area and the conversation always ended with "What can I do to help," and that's what we're looking for. I think it'll be a group that's really receptive to what we're doing."

Fayetteville has a population of nearly 84,000, twice that of Mankato.

The city is home to the state's largest university, University of Arkansas, which is also Fayetteville's No. 1 employer. Other top employers are Washington Regional Medical Center, Veterans Administration Medical, the county and school district, Superior Industries and Arvest Bank.

The city is heavily influenced by the university and by several major corporations in nearby cities, including Walmart, which is based in nearby Bentonville.

This is the fifth Inter-City Leadership Visit. The program is organized by Greater Mankato Growth.

Other trips have been to: Columbia, Missouri; Charlottesville, Virginia; Fort Collins, Colorado and Bellingham, Washington.

Jonathan Zierdt, president and CEO of GMG, said past trips have brought direct changes to Mankato and sowed the seeds for a lot of other things that happened here.

"I remember our initial trip to Bellingham and how the focus was on community art and art centers and the use of art in public places."

He said that trip eventually spurred the start of the Emy Frentz Art Guild and the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour in Mankato.

Zierdt said that during the trip to Columbia he, MSU President Dick Davenport and businessman Denny Dotson were at the university where they learned they had a department dedicated to economic development.

"By the time we boarded the plane we were talking about MSU hiring its first vice president of economic development, which they ultimately did."

He said the bike friendliness of Fort Collins influenced more bike friendly practices here and Charlottesville showcased its partnerships which Zierdt believes led to the formation of the GreenSeam agribusiness partnership created in Mankato.

"The trip gets you thinking about things."

Bruss said the local delegations have always been diverse "It's a good mix of business leaders, community and civic leaders and non-profits." Each participant's costs are paid by the business or organization they work for.

"It's a great opportunity to get key local leaders in one place at one time," said Bruss, retired president of Bethany College, who has been on three previous inter-city trips.

Bruss said a few people from Mankato will visit Fayetteville in July to line up an itinerary for the Oct. 10-12 trip.

Follow Tim Krohn on Twitter @TimKrohn

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