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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Nov. 26, 200812:00 PM EST

Downtown Council leaders discuss Leadership Trip to Seattle

by: Mary Kate Roan

by Mary-Kate Roan

Staff Writer

Though the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s 2008 Leadership Trip to Seattle has been castigated by some, most participants said it served its purpose.

According to Downtown Council President Jim Love, there was a three-pronged reasoning behind the Leadership Trip to Seattle attended by public and civic leaders.

“Seattle is three times larger than Jacksonville but very similar,” said Love. “They’ve had their share of problems.”

Love went on to discuss the devastation of Boeing cutting off about 100,000 jobs and a popular sign that stated “To the last one out of Seattle, turn out the light.”

But Jacksonville Landing Operator Toney Sleiman, who participated in his first Leadership Trip this year, changed his tune from loathing to loving the ideas and concept behind the trips. At first, Sleiman saw the trips as a vacation for the Council and City representatives.

“I had been bugged about going for years and finally (Chamber chair-elect) Mike Hightower bugged me into going,” said Sleiman, who agreed to go just 10 days before the trip. “And I’ll never miss another one.”

The trip was also about developing and enhancing relationships with Seattle’s leaders and implementing some ideas gathered from touring the City and speaking to those at the front of industries.

The trip started with a breakfast talk with Steve Leahy, president and CEO of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce – a position he’s held since 2002. After that, the group of around 80 Jacksonville representatives separated into four “tracks” or tours of Seattle: aviation, attracting and retaining talent, growth and development management and life sciences.

“Their port is bigger than ours,” said Downtown Council member and President-elect Jepp Walter. “Their cruise ships have to go 80 miles before reaching the ocean.”

Walter was also impressed by how large the ferry system in Seattle is.

“The ferry boats are like small ships,” said Walter. “They have restaurants on board and are about four or five times bigger.”

But one of the main attractions that drew Sleiman, Love and Walter to Seattle was the Pike Place Market, famous for workers throwing fish from the cases to the register to be wrapped up for dinner. Sleiman added he got at least one idea from the market he’d like to use at The Landing.

“They have a section of the place that does daily booth rentals,” said Sleiman. “But the catch is you have to make the product you sell.”

Sleiman added he would be sitting down at the beginning of the year to discuss putting a similar daily rental booth section at the Landing featuring hand-made and hand-grown products.

Love added that he would like to see Jacksonville get “greener” all around and added a few more improvements to the list.

“I’d like to improve on our life sciences in Jacksonville,” said Love. “And I think an aquarium here in Jacksonville would be great.”

Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford noticed the crime rate in Seattle was less than in Jacksonville – Seattle citizens are even wary about jaywalking. He was fascinated to look outside his Seattle hotel window one night to see a man waiting for the walk sign to flash on an empty street. That prompted Rutherford to laugh and say maybe he’d consider a job in Seattle.

“The citizens are very highly educated in Seattle,” said Jill Tager, another Downtown Council member who attended the trip. “It was all done through city strategy.”

According to Tager, business leaders worked with the City’s government to educate people and lure businesses to Seattle.

“They made it industry specific based on what kind of businesses they wanted in Seattle,” said Tager on the education offered there. “Then they improved the social and night life in Seattle to keep and attract the younger educated crowd there.”

Tager noted that Seattle citizens and representatives were complaining about the public schools. She added that most students are taught in private schools.

“My only disappointment was the only city people there were (Adam) Hollingsworth and Mayor Peyton,” said Sleiman, who felt that Council members would have learned a lot had they attended the trip. “Every city official needs to be there.”

City Council President Ronnie Fussell said no Council members attended because of the economy and someone from the mayor’s office would report back to the Council on the trip.

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