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Leadership class gets taste of small-town life





Members of the 2012 Leadership Kansas class got a taste of western Kansas during a regional session Wednesday through Friday in Hays.

For two class members from Pittsburg, who speculated they likely had traveled the farthest of all their classmates to reach Hays, the Chestnut Street District was a highlight of their visit.

"It's very impressive what you all have done down there," said Shawn Naccarato. "Particularly Gella's. We did enjoy that a lot.

"It's very impressive how you've cared for the downtown and revitalized that."

Another destination for class members during the week was Plainville's design company Dessin Fournir. For Naccarato and fellow Pittsburg resident Randy Cason, that stop was another memorable part of the week.

"It is a rarity of having a local investor developing and supporting a community ... in Hays and Plainville," Cason said. "It's a gem.

"There are many small communities that would love to have someone like that. It just shows community and civic pride in developing and growing a community."

It was the fifth session for the 40 members of the 2012 Leadership Kansas class. Each day was packed with panel discussions and tours covering a broad range of topics from workforce development to water conservation.

Throughout the course of the six-month regional meetings, sessions have been in Garden City, Wichita, Manhattan, Junction City, Kansas City and Topeka. Established by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce in 1979, the program is one of the oldest statewide leadership programs in the U.S.

As the week's activities wrapped up Friday morning with a session called "Kansas Is," Spencer Duncan of Topeka expressed a bit of frustration at recent statewide marketing efforts.

"We're not doing a good job of telling our story as a state," he said. "We're not telling the story that people today might actually care about."

He questioned whether other class members might have doubted the value of visiting the small town of Plainville before the group made the 25-mile trip north Thursday. However, after seeing the community and gaining an understanding of the motivations of Dessin Fournier owner Chuck Comeau to reinvest in the area, he said he became aware of a new line of thinking.

"We're asking the wrong questions," he said. "We ask, 'Why Kansas?' and we should be asking, 'Why not Kansas?'

"That one simple word completely changes the way we look at the world."