NASHVILLE – Step off the plane in Music City, and you immediately realize you’re in a totally different place.
And that provided the first unintentional lesson for the 2015 Regional Leaders Trip contingent from Colorado Springs, even before the 60 attendees made it to baggage claim.
That lesson: If you’re trying to sell your city to strangers, it makes sense to start immediately, if not sooner.
Nashville succeeds as well as anywhere. No matter what part of the airport concourse you’re on, odds are that within a minute or so you’ll hear live music, with amazingly talented singers and groups performing in almost every lounge area.
All of them are trying to make it in the country music business, and they obviously realize that they have a chance of being heard by playing for the ever-changing airport audience. So why not give travelers a taste of the rising, but still-unknown, talent at the airport during the daytime when the downtown honkytonks aren’t open yet?
Not only that, but Nashville adds another wrinkle to the experience. Everyone inside security can buy a drink — yes, alcoholic — and take it anywhere from bars to restaurants and even to the gate (just not on the plane).
It’s a perfect way to set the mood, even for those who simply are connecting from one flight to another.
Granted, Nashville’s airport serves plenty of airlines, many accessing it with direct flights from across the country but also using it as a secondary-level hub for travelers en route to other destinations.
But that distinctive impression, all the live music as well as the ability to walk around with a drink, obviously makes a difference.
How could that apply to Colorado Springs? Perhaps with streaming videos along the concourse showing the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the Manitou Incline, perhaps the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb or cyclists going through Garden of the Gods. Not just murals or posters, but dramatic videos.
Therein lies a good explanation for why its valuable to organize a group trip for regional leaders each year. It’s not a matter of trying to duplicate what has worked for other cities. It’s more about seeing where others succeed, then using that as a springboard for variations that make sense for Colorado Springs.
This trip, which continued from Tuesday through Friday, was planned as an opportunity to check out what’s happening in a positive way for Nashville, as well as smaller sub-groups spending time in Chattanooga (two hours away in southeast Tennessee) and Huntsville (about the same distance into northeast Alabama).
If you’re trying to sell your city to strangers, it makes sense to start immediately, if not sooner.
At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to find out the not-so-positive issues as well. In Chattanooga, for instance, the main lure was the city-sponsored, high-speed Internet service, which Colorado Springs is looking into copying in some form.
But that area also has just implemented a new stormwater program including additional regulations. Yet, Chattanooga might set a different kind of example – what to avoid, because the more onerous new standards effectively have shut down new development in many areas of that city, which was not the intent.
Our group’s first speaker at an opening reception was Karl Dean, the mayor of Nashville and its county, with their combined metro government, a few months away from being term-limited out of office after eight years. He talked about having three main priorities throughout his tenure, the first of which surprised many. Public education.
Dean mentioned it ahead of the other two, public safety and economic development, talking about how Nashville has been helped by Teach for America young educators, as well as by encouraging more charter schools. The reason, which should sound familiar to Colorado Springs? To improve the young, emerging workforce.
Hearing that as the No. 1 priority from an elected mayor was refreshing, to say the least. He admitted the test scores still could improve, but the progress has been measurable.
Tourism and branding also have helped Nashville’s strong recovery from the recession. The city built a huge downtown convention center during those hard times, and as Dean put it, “For seven years now we’ve been breaking records every month for hotel occupancy and tourism. Some folks say convention centers lose money, but ours started out in the black and we’ve never looked back.”
He also said they were able to fund that convention center “and invest in our city without having to go to the voters,” which he obviously emphasized on purpose. Before standing up to talk, Dean was talking about that very subject to none other than Janet Suthers, wife of new Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.
Dean mentioned something else he believes has made a major difference in Nashville’s resurgence. That would be developing affordable housing for artists (musicians in this case) in the downtown area, which one of our groups planned to check out for themselves.
“There’s no copyright on great ideas,” Dean said, admitting Nashville had used its leaders trips to “steal” ideas and programs from other cities, including Denver. “But I love your city too. It’s a great place. You have so many natural attributes.”
That’s a nice starting point. But Colorado Springs has to build on it, in every way possible.