Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce officials on Wednesday outlined their strategic plan for 2011. It’s a plan the chamber hopes will lay the ground work for a joint community planning strategy involving the city of Pittsburg as well as Pittsburg State University and other area entities.

Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce officials on Wednesday outlined their strategic plan for 2011. It’s a plan the chamber hopes will lay the ground work for a joint community planning strategy involving the city of Pittsburg as well as Pittsburg State University and other area entities.

Chamber President Blake Benson said the plan revolved around four key areas:

• Legislative advocacy, primarily in regards to the Highway 69 project and voter education

• Improving marketing and communication, with goals of keeping shoppers in Pittsburg and expanding social media presence

• Economic development, with a focus on downtown and attracting new businesses and out-of-town shoppers

• Internal improvements, including expanding “Paint the Town Red” and attracting more bids for the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau

Benson said that in tough economic times, chamber leaders are looking for creative ways to help the city grow.

“We have a board that doesn’t see boundaries, and doesn’t draw lines in the sand,” Benson said. “These are the things we see from a business standpoint that need to be accomplished.”

Ideally, Benson said, the city and Pitt State will soon develop a common strategy for growth, or vision, similar to what other smaller Kansas communities have adopted. But to be successful, he said, the major players need to have a common goal.

“With all the initiatives we’re working on, we feel we need to have a vision for the community,” Benson said, adding that the proposed visioning effort is still in the very early stages of development. “We want to help start that process. We want it to be a true community vision, where each organization maps their own path to get to that common goal. It won’t succeed without community buy-in.”

A major area of focus for the chamber next year will be to push for the Legislature to keep funding the Highway 69 project. Transportation money usually is one of the first items up on the chopping block when legislators look for ways to cut spending, and the chamber will lobby to keep it.

“It’s usually the first to be pulled when money is tight, and we need to urge the Legislature to protect it,” Benson said. “It was intended for transportation, and we need to make sure they remember that.”

The chamber also will try to take advantage of in-town opportunities to promote Pittsburg. Benson noted the mini-Baja competition that Pitt State will host during Memorial Day weekend as a prime chance the chamber’s marketing and communication task force to do that.

“The community really has a golden opportunity with that,” Benson said. “We’re going to have a lot of visitors and corporate sponsors, and we will look at how we can get the most mileage out of that to promote our community.
Growing the downtown Pittsburg business community also is a major area of focus. Now that the Streetscape Project is complete, Benson said, the chamber’s economic development task force will look at ways to attract new businesses.

“We are going to find out what business owners think the barriers are, and what the opportunities are for improvement,” Benson said. “We will collaborate with the city on putting together a focused strategy for moving downtown forward.”

To do that, Pittsburg’s economic development and advisory committee has created a small business incentive package, including a $350,000 allocation to help provide small businesses with small loans to solve temporary issues, including debt refinancing and expansion. The plan was approved by the city commission in November.

“We still have a lot of room for improvement as far as development efforts go,” Benson said.

The chamber also hopes to work in conjunction with the Colonial Fox Theater, which it sees as a vital part of downtown development. Benson said consultants are meeting with the chamber Board of Directors to make sure the two entities don’t step on each other’s toes.

“We want to make sure we’re not doing things that are contradictory, but that are complimentary of each other,” Benson said.

Lastly, Benson said the chamber wants to bring in at least seven new events throughout the year through the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and that it would like to take Paint the Town Red, which is in its fifth year, “to the next level.”

“What exactly that is, we don’t know yet,” Benson said. “But we want to continue improving that. It’s becoming one of Pittsburg’s signature events.