It was back in 1998 when a group of about 70 metro Atlanta leaders traveled to Seattle on what was then the second annual LINK trip.
At the time, Atlantans were particularly impressed by the vitality of Seattle’s downtown. But they were equally critical of Seattle’s urban growth boundary — an effort to concentrate urban development while protecting the rural character of the outlying areas.
“They have gone too far, and we haven’t gone far enough,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, during the 1998 trip.
Now 13 years later, LINK (which stands for Leadership, Involvement, Networking, Knowledge) is returning to Seattle. It will be an opportunity for about 100 Atlantans — including Williams — to see how Seattle has evolved, to reflect on how the Atlanta region has developed and to compare the two leading U.S. cities.
The areas of emphasis of the 2011 LINK trip will be significantly different than what the delegation studied in 1998.
One of the major areas of focus will be exploring the “Seattle Process” — how Seattle and the Puget Sound region is able to make decisions and build community consensus.
Atlanta leaders also will be exploring Seattle’s “Prosperity Partnership” — a coalition of more than 300 government, business, labor and community organizations dedicated to developing and implementing a common economic strategy.
Under the economic development banner, metro Atlanta leaders will pay special attention to Seattle’s role as a world center for global health (a claim Atlanta also can make) and on how the Puget Sound has fueled an innovative economy. Atlanta leaders will learn about the area’s Technology Alliance.
The issues that were high on the agenda in 1998 — transportation, development patterns and downtown revitalization — will only play minor roles during the 2011 trip.
The LINK trip is scheduled to last from May 4 to May 7. It is jam-packed with a host of sessions that range from the State of Washington’s education policies, the area’s international perspective and the governance of the region’s transit operations.
That discussion will be particularly relevant this year because the Atlanta region is in the middle of an exercise with the state government to figure out how best to govern the multitude of transit agencies in metro Atlanta.
“One of the things we want to do is see what makes Seattle, Seattle,” said Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, which organizes the LINK trips. “Every trip is different. We always come across something unexpected.”
Leithead said he personally is looking forward to learning more about the Seattle’s decision-making process.
“It’s going to be fascinating to understand the Seattle Process,” Leithead said. “Any regional issue (they are facing), they will submit it through the process.”
When speaking about regional transit governance, Leithead said that “was the lynchpin to passage” of the proposed regional one-cent transportation sales tax that will go before voters in August, 2012.
Seeing how Seattle has governed its transit operations “relates directly to us,” he added.
While metro Atlanta leaders profit from studying how other cities are addressing many of the same regional problems as us, the LINK trips are particularly beneficial because it brings 100 people from throughout the Atlanta region to discuss issues and build stronger relationships with each other.
Among the people slated to go on this LINK trip includes: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, recently-elected Gwinnett County Chair Charlotte Nash, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith, MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott, recently appointed state economic development commissioner Chris Cummiskey among dozens of other leaders in business, local and state governments as well as leaders in Atlanta’s non-profit and civic communities.
This will be the 15th LINK trip and the second one that is returning to a city where the group has already visited. The group’s first trip was to Denver, and it returned to the Colorado in 2008.
The chronological line-up of LINK trips is as follows:
Denver – 1997
Seattle – 1998
Dallas – 1999
Cleveland – 2000
San Diego – 2001
Chicago – 2002
San Francisco – 2003
Boston – 2004
Portland – 2005
Miami – 2006
Vancouver – 2007
Denver – 2008
Minneapolis-St. Paul – 2009
Phoenix – 2010
Seattle – 2011
Note to readers: I will be filing daily updates during the LINK trip on SaportaReport. Upon my return, I also will put together a wrap up package of the trip that will run in the Atlanta Business Chronicle.