Denver's top leaders learn from Music City

Article provided by Katie Kramer, Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation.

Earlier this month, 160 of Denver's top business and civic leaders traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, as part of the 25th annual Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation Leadership Exchange (LEX). The Leadership Foundation has been gathering the region's top leaders for a quarter of a century and taking them to another city to exchange ideas, learn best practices and bring what they learn back to the metro area.

During the delegation's time in "Music City" participants heard from local elected officials, entrepreneurs and a Grammy-nominated songwriter. From the infrastructure built around its powerhouse health care sector to how the business community leverages its local universities to its school district's thoughtful take on workforce development, Nashville is a city with plenty of ideas worth emulating.

Similar to Denver, Nashville is a destination for highly educated workers and millennials. The two cities share a similar high energy and collaborative approach to solving problems and moving the communities forward. But even with many similarities, differences and best practices were plentiful for members of the delegation, who toured the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Vanderbilt University and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

One of the breakout sessions that generated the most excitement among the delegation was a trip to Pearl-Cohn, a local high school with a focus on preparing students to work in the entertainment industry. Nashville's approach to public education, referred to as the Academies of Nashville, has a strong tie to workforce development. High school students have the opportunity to open enroll in one of 12 zoned high schools that offer 41 different career options. The business community is deeply invested in the Academies of Nashville, with more than 240 community partners involved. Since this model was introduced, graduation rates have increased by almost 21 percent.

"(The students) proved the success of this education model that clearly evoked a sense of self-pride," said Tasha Jones, Leadership Exchange delegate and director of marketing for Forest City Stapleton. "The reported improvements in their attendance and graduation and engagement rates are an indication of success as well."

For the last 25 years of the Leadership Exchange, the delegation's learnings have found applications here in the metro area, and Nashville will be no exception.

"We've seen it happen year after year with LEX," said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

"The regional view of the world is part of our brand, and (LEX) has been powerful in terms of driving our economy forward and helping us do extraordinary things," said Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, and delegate on nearly all 25 LEX trips.

The Miami LEX trip in 2006 planted the seed that would become the Biennial of the Americas, an international festival of ideas, arts and culture. Denver will host its third Biennial next summer. In San Diego, LEX delegates were impressed by a charter school focused on STEM education, which served as a model for the Denver School of Science and Technology. Toronto provided LEX delegates with an example of neighborhood design around transit, and served as a pre-cursor to Denver's transit-oriented development. On last year's trip to Pittsburgh, metro area leaders learned about Manchester Bidwell, a youth education and workforce development program. Implementation of a similar model in Denver is currently being explored by community leaders.

"We keep coming up with great ideas because we never stop learning," Brough said. "LEX has been an important part of that for 25 years, and I believe the learnings from our most recent trip to Nashville will find a place in our community, making it an even better place to live and work."

Katie Kramer is the executive director of the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation.


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