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Mark W. Schwiebert

Mark W. Schwiebert

Along with about 5,000 of our fellow Quad Citians, I took part in the Quad Cities Big Table discussion last spring. Sponsored by the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, the conversations were part of the chamber’s Q2030 initiative, which aims at making the Quad Cities a cooler, more creative and connected community with greater economic opportunities for all who live here.

Since the Big Table conversations, work groups in four targeted areas have been meeting to follow up with a series of ideas generated last spring. The groups focus on (1) cool places; (2) creative people; (3) connected region; and (4) a prosperous economy. The idea is that by working regionally to build on our cultural assets surrounding the iconic Mississippi River, and mobilizing our strong work force and healthy manufacturing and entrepreneur base, we can create a global identity for our region by the year 2030.

Pretty ambitious stuff.

But by getting involved with the work group on Regional Collaboration/Connected Region I’ve been impressed with the talents and enthusiasm engaged in this process. At the same time, having been involved in regional initiatives over the last 38 years, I’m also mindful of the importance of biting off manageable pieces that build on smaller successes to ultimately achieve the goal of creating a Quad Cities brand that extends around the globe.

In looking at areas where strong existing assets could be combined to help build this brand, it seems to me the following represent three areas of opportunity:

1. Organize a uniquely Quad Cities Regional Cultural Event. With all the terrific amenities we already have – from the Figge Art Museum and Quad City Botanical Center to the Putnam and Quad City Symphony and Ballet Quad-Cities, not to mention the many theater and art venues that grace our area - the Quad Cities already holds its own against any midsized or even larger metropolitan area in the country.

Unfortunately, we haven’t always been effective at marketing these assets.

By establishing a major Quad Cities Cultural Festival - like the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina; or the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado - through packaging our many cultural assets within a 10-day to 2-week period, say in late summer or early fall, and then creatively and consistently marketing the event over a period of years, we could build the Quad Cities brand as a cool and creative community.

We experimented with this a few years ago with the East-West River Fest but didn’t really follow through beyond the first two years. A longer commitment is needed.

2. Creating a "Healthy Living" Collaborative. This idea affords the triple benefits of improving community health, reducing workplace illness and injuries and identifying the Quad Cities as a progressive, dynamic community.

Some of us are old enough to recall JFK’s Presidential Council on Physical Fitness, which focused on exercise and athletics. This campaign awakened a whole generation to the value of physical fitness.

Today’s focus is more on both exercise and diet, each of which influences wellness in school, workplace and beyond. Growing concern by health care providers and employers at escalating health care costs, due to unhealthy eating or exercise habits, fuels a public demand to do better. A collaborative funded by private and public sector employers, as well as charitable foundations and health care organizations, could create a Quad Cities Healthy Living Initiative aimed at improving both public awareness and healthy living habits.

It could also boost our community’s national image in this important area.

Fortunately, there is a regional health initiative already in place, involving local governments, businesses and non-profits. The challenge will be to take this initiative to a new level in which this becomes part of our brand identity as a Quad Cities region.

3. A "Go Green" Quad Cities Campaign represents a third area for working together to build a positive brand that also improves our quality of life. With major employers and utilities like Deere & Company and MidAmerican Energy, as well as public entities like MetroLink, presently innovating new ways to reduce fossil fuel and other waste, we already have a leg up on this initiative.

Focusing on these innovations and building a culture of ever expanding green initiatives will demonstrate our responsibility toward those who inherit what we leave behind and can brand the Quad Cities as a "cool" place - in a second, very important sense of the word.

Any one or a combination of these ideas could move us toward the twin goals of branding the Quad Cities as a great place to live, work and play while also enhancing our quality of life.

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Mark Schwiebrt is a former mayor of Rock Island

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