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Last week, I took part in the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 Inter-City Study Mission to Boston. This was my first Inter-City Study Mission.
I had heard about these missions before: trips by a delegation of elected officials and business leaders to other cities. Was this going to be a boondoggle as the critics would argue? Or would it really be an opportunity to learn about the issues facing another city and share best practices?
There were approximately 60 of us on the trip, including Seattle City Councilmembers, representatives from Boeing, Qwest, Puget Sound Energy, the Seattle School District, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Port of Seattle, Vulcan and a host of other local businesses.
As a former newspaper reporter, I approached the trip with a healthy amount of skepticism. But after three days in Boston, I came home a true believer in the benefits of these “missions.” Here is why:
The trip included a cross section of people, representing nearly all facets of civic and business life in the Seattle area.
I can’t think of any other time when so much talent (present company excluded, of course), representing so many different disciplines is ever together in one room, much less together for three straight days. The value of all those stakeholders discussing issues facing the city and their companies is immeasurable.
Boston rolled out the red carpet for us.
We heard from five-term Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Fred Salvucci, former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation and widely regarded as the “father” of Boston’s big dig project, Ted Kelly, President and CEO of Liberty Mutual Group, Paul Zintl, Chief Operations Officer for Partners in Health and Larry Susskind, Director, Public Disputes Program with Harvard Law.
I especially enjoyed Larry Susskind’s presentation. I could see a number of applications in the business world for his approach to consensus building
Just having the opportunity to meet with leaders from another city who are facing similar issues as Seattle was valuable.
On personal note, I spent three days out of my comfort zone, although I fielded a ton of questions about Comcast. (Yes, we have three local call centers and no, you don’t need to do anything to get Xfinity. It is a brand name.) I spent most of my time learning about the issues facing other businesses. It’s amazing how similar those issues are—taxes, transportation, education and of course, the economy.
A few observations about my fellow Seattle “delegates:”
• It’s true. People from Seattle are really nice. They also are highly collaborative. I think it is this ability to collaborative across disciplines that makes us unique.
• They genuinely care about making Seattle a better place.
• They approached this “mission” as if they were on a business trip. I saw lots of note taking.
Finally, the Chamber kept us hopping from meeting to meeting and stuck to a rigid schedule. I found this out the hard way when I missed the bus back to the hotel while I ran into a store to get a Harvard sweatshirt for my daughter. (A dad can dream, right?)
Another perspective: City Councilman Tim Burgess on the Boston trip.