Ballantyne’s Driggs sees some local potential in trip north

Partnering with local towns and always looking forward were two of the lessons area leaders brought back to Charlotte after Ballantyne’s councilman Ed Driggs and other officials visited Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

More than 100 local business leaders, city council members and chamber members took the trip to see how Minneapolis functions in terms of business, government and quality of life, hoping to incorporate some of the successful programs into day-to-day operations in Charlotte.

The trip gave leaders a look at the city’s health efforts, transportation and infrastructure, public and private partnerships in professional sports, public education, civic and corporate leaders, building the Entrepreneurial Eco System, Fit Minneapolis, arts and culture and biking infrastructure.

“I think what we saw was how a city that’s a bit bigger than we are does things…” Driggs, the Charlotte City Council District 7 representative, said of the greater Minneapolis area. Of particular note was how the city coordinates programs with neighboring towns such as St. Paul. “There’s a collaborative approach to government there,” Driggs added.

Minneapolis is able to put money into things like transportation, teacher pay and the new Minnesota Vikings football stadium because of its higher tax base, Driggs said, though he was not advocating for a tax hike in Charlotte

“I was looking at (the trip), kind of trying to see what I liked and see how applicable it was to us,” he said.

Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, said he was impressed by the city’s bike paths and is interested in seeing how that could be incorporated more in Charlotte. But he and Driggs both acknowledged that it could be a tough addition for the Queen City and wondered if the paths would be as successful here.

“Some would say it’s too hot and people wouldn’t ride bikes to and from work,” Morgan said.

“It’s certainly appealing,” Driggs said, but the details in implementing the paths, such as widening roads, could be problematic, he added.

Morgan said he also took away a lot from a conversation with Richard Davis, chairman, president and CEO of U.S. Bancorp and chairman of Minnesota Business Partnership.

“This guy is the Hugh McColl (Jr.) in terms of civic leadership,” Morgan said, referencing the former chairman and chief executive officer of Bank of America who has donated to a number of causes in Charlotte.

Davis challenged Charlotte’s leaders to think of success in larger terms than the economics of the city, and to focus on whether residents are happy.

Davis’s message struck Morgan. “I think his point was (that) it’s fine what we are doing today, but we need to look forward,” he said.

Driggs, who has spent his career with a number of financial institutions, was interested in the Itasca Project in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region – a group of business leaders that focus on improving the region – and how such a group could benefit Charlotte.

“We were told about how this group of leading business people has been meeting every week for a long time to talk about bigger picture issues and that resembles the process we used to have in Charlotte,” Driggs said. Charlotte business leaders previously would do the same thing as the Itasca Project and “get together informally and would talk about what was going on,” Driggs said. “Some people complained that it wasn’t a very transparent process, but they were visionary people.”

Morgan isn’t sure yet which lessons learned in Minneapolis will actually have an impact in Charlotte, though Driggs said there’s already been at least one plus for him.

“One of the benefits of the trip was the opportunity the group had to spend time together,” Driggs said. “I thought it was a great community-building exercise.”

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Laura Edington

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