The Tri-Cities I moved to in 1976 would be unrecognizable to many today.
There was no Toyota Center, Tri-City Americans or TRAC. The area's first winery -- Preston Wine Cellars -- had just opened, and sagebrush covered large swatches of Road 68, Gage Boulevard and south Richland.
Kiplinger had yet to name us one of the county's 10 best places to raise a family, Policom and others had not yet tapped us as one of America's top metro areas for economic growth, and Forbes had not labeled us the "11th Geekiest City in the U.S."
But even then, visionary leaders were advocating greater collaboration and cooperation between the three cities. People like Sam Volpentest, Glenn Lee, Bill Wiley and the Lampson family saw the Mid-Columbia had potential but that it could only be fully realized if the communities pooled their economic and political clout to reflect our collective size.
The Tri-Cities is thriving, in part as a result of their vision, hard work and leadership.
Today, the need for cooperation between the four cities (West Richland has since emerged) is greater than ever. We're now a community of more than 250,000 residents, fourth largest in Washington and in the top 150 in the country. In today's dynamic economy, opportunities and pitfalls for mid-sized metro areas like ours abound like never before.
For many years, community leaders have been discussing the leverage of the four Cs -- communication, cooperation, collaboration and consolidation -- and how these strategies may best apply to improving our community and positioning us best for the future.
At times the debate was long on emotion and short on facts, particularly on the topic of consolidation.
I am chairman of the Tri-Cities Evolution, a working group of the Three Rivers Community Roundtable. Our objective is to bring facts and data to the discussion, then create an informed dialogue across the region about how to best apply the four Cs to our circumstances.
We recently engaged the Ruckelshaus Center, a joint effort of Washington's two research universities, to lead our community through a three-phase effort that that will help us evaluate the full range of collaborative approaches.
The Ruckelshaus Center is ideally suited for this task as they specialize in public policy issues and can independently and impartially facilitate a community dialogue.
The Ruckelshaus effort has three phases:
1. Evaluate what other communities have done in similar circumstances -- seeding a discussion based on facts and data.
2. Informed by the results of Phase 1, facilitate a community dialogue on four-C alternatives that might make sense for the Tri-Cities.
3. Building on the results of Phase 2, Tri-Cities residents will be surveyed on their support for the top improvement alternatives to create a community endorsed blueprint for the future.
Phase 1 is just completed, and the results will be rolled out Sept. 26 at the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Three Rivers Convention Center. We're inviting all Tri-Cities citizens who care about the future of the community to attend.
Join us to hear firsthand how the Ruckelshaus effort is bringing new insight about our community, potential ways for us to build consensus and how those efforts could create a better future for the Tri-Cities.
Many of the Phase 1 conclusions are surprising and counterintuitive, demonstrating the power of facts and data.
Joining Ruckelshaus Center staff in rolling out the findings will be former Sen. Slade Gorton, a member of the board for the Ruckelshaus Center, and Megan Clubb, president and CEO of Baker Boyer Bank.
You can register for the luncheon by calling the Tri-City Regional Chamber before Sept. 21, at 736-0510. Tickets are $20 for chamber members and $24 nonmembers.
Cooperation is nothing new. The Tri-Cities has many successful, collective efforts; Ben Franklin Transit, the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC), the regional airport, Tri-Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau, the recently established public facilities district, Delta High School, Tri-Tech Skills Center, central animal control and a common 911 call center, to name just a few.
But more opportunities exist.
Come participate in creating a blueprint for the future of the Tri-Cities.
* Marty Conger is a 36-year resident of the Tri-Cities, and the chief financial officer and associate laboratory director for Business Systems at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.