They went to Sioux Falls, S.D., and liked virtually everything they saw.
And now a 26-member contingent who went from Billings is working to adapt what it learned to meet Magic City challenges.
Most of the group members met Tuesday at the Billings Chamber of Commerce to discuss ways they’ve begun applying lessons learned in areas as diverse as planning for infrastructure, gathering and nurturing the next generation of community leaders, and cultivating quality of life — and economic development — through cultural amenities.
Julie Dial, executive director of the Western Heritage Center, said Sioux Falls Arts Council Director Nan Baker will visit Billings in September to share her
community’s cultural plan, which went before the Sioux Falls City Council on Tuesday evening.
“With them,” Dial said, “it all goes back to quality of life.”
Steve Arveschoug, executive director of the Big Sky Economic Development Authority, said Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether is set to address the organization’s annual meeting this fall. Huether, who serves in a strong-mayor form of government, will speak Oct. 9 during a breakfast meeting. Huether’s theme is building community.
John Brewer, the Billings chamber’s president and chief executive officer, said he’s been speaking publicly about the group’s five main takeaways following a visit that included tours, question-and-answer sessions and meals together with Sioux Falls business, civic and cultural leaders. Those takeaways include:
Appropriating what has worked in Sioux Falls. That includes “adopting a culture of ‘yes,’ ” by coupling public/private partnerships with master planning and sharing “our new level of motivation and maintaining our competitive edge in Montana.”
Making no apologies for leadership. “Elected, civic and business leaders have a tendency to be too polite,” the group said during a takeaways session held in Sioux Falls during the last day of the visit. “Let’s get local leaders together with our group to tell the story and ignite their passion.”
Agreeing that good is not good enough. “Let’s not settle for mediocre facilities,” the group said, including inadequate river connectivity, limited sports venues and aging infrastructure.
Rubbing two pennies together. Great ideas take resources, the group agreed, and the Chamber has been advocating for a local-option tax for at least the last five years. That will require approval by the Montana Legislature.
Involving young professionals in the future of the community while developing their professional skills. Billings’ fledgling NextGen group is gaining steam fast, said Jeff Ewelt, ZooMontana director, who’s helping to shepherd the new group.
Another initiative is studying whether Billings needs and can support a convention center. The chamber is seeking grant funding to hire a consultant to make that study, Brewer said.
While a convention center could be constructed just about anywhere, one spot that will be studied is the area bounded by Fourth Avenue North and Exposition Drive.
A study already completed considers how MetraPark can be connected with land across Main Street as a hospitality corridor.
But it’s complicated, as it involves annexing property into Billings and extending water and sewer services into the area.
“We are going to ask the consultant if a convention center is viable and where it might go,” Brewer said.
Other ideas the group discussed include pairing city government leaders in Billings with their Sioux Falls counterparts and encouraging the 26 visitors to be members — or at least to have input — with local boards and commissioners.
“If there’s something important,” Arveschoug said, “we need to be part of it.”