Leaders explore aspirational cities

Forty-eight business and community leaders will travel September 22-24 to three different cities on the first Aspirational Cities Tour hosted by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce. The diverse delegation will be led by Chamber Board Chair Bart Blackwell and President/CEO J. David Jameson. The group will visit Greenville, South Carolina, as well as Winston-Salem and Raleigh, North Carolina.

“These cities have successfully implemented transformational changes resulting in improved economic and community vitality,” said Jameson. “Our goal is to return with at least one great new idea for Aiken that we immediately set into action.”

The impetus behind the Aspirational Cities Tour is a recommendation from the Blue Ribbon Panel appointed by the Chamber in 2013 to look for the next big idea for our community. This was followed by the work of the Think Aiken Think group that met in 2014. Chambers of Commerce have led trips like this for years. Greenville, Asheville, Raleigh and Charlotte are examples of cities that take annual trips and attribute much of their communities’ successes to the ideas and insights gained from the visits.

“An aspirational city visit will yield new ideas, fresh perspectives and strengthened connections that translate to big wins for the enhancement of Aiken,” said Blackwell. “Through shared experiences and a common foundation of understanding, participants can become a more cohesive team working to solve problems on behalf of the community as a whole.”

The group will meet with leaders in these communities to learn how they have addressed issues such as:

Business growth and job creation

Community involvement for the young professional

Developing the “cool” factor in a community

Economic benefits of a city/county investing in itself

Importance of green space, public space and trails to economic vitality

Integrating the local college/university into the community

Leadership and continuity of leadership

Nurturing entrepreneurial businesses – fostering an ecosystem for entrepreneurs

Public/Private partnerships

Workforce development


“It is easy for a community to become complacent and disregard the need for charting a course for the future,” said Jameson. “This tour will give us the opportunity to visit cities that have been vigilant in crafting their long-range vision and are actively incorporating steps needed to implement those plans. It will put a little pressure on us to achieve at a higher level.”


Participants in the Aspirational Cities Tour are:

Jimmy Angelos - AECOM - PS
Clay Killian  - Aiken County
Ronnie Young -  Aiken County
Andrew Siders - Aiken County
Sean Alford - Aiken County Public School District
Keyatta Priester - Aiken Electric Cooperative
Vance Reynolds - Aiken Regional Medical Centers
Ellen Priest - Aiken Standard
Maayan Schechter - Aiken Standard
Gemma Frock - Aiken Technical College
Susan Winsor - Aiken Technical College
Trent Arnold - Arnold Advisors, LLC
Buzz Rich - Attorney at Law
Bart Blackwell - B & S Machine Tool, Inc.
John Klimm - City of Aiken
Philip Merry - City of Aiken
Lessie Price - City of Aiken
Gail Diggs - City of Aiken
Dick Dewar - City of Aiken
Steve Homoki - City of Aiken
Stuart Bedenbaugh - City of Aiken
Charles Barranco - City of Aiken
Tommy Paradise - City of Aiken
George Grinton - City of Aiken
Diana Floyd - Civic Leader
Betty Ryberg - Civic Leader
Charlie Hartz - Dunkin’ Donuts of Aiken
Will Williams - Economic Development Partnership
Mandy Collins - Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce
Dianne Phillips - Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce
David Jameson - Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce
John McMichael - Hutson-Etherredge Companies
Peggy Penland - Inn at Houndslake
Josh Stewart - J. E. Stewart Engineering, Inc.
Theresa Swafford - Manpower
Julie Whitesell - MEYBOHM REALTORS®
Margaret-Ann Carter - NBC 26/WJBF

Rick Osbon - Osbon’s Laundry & Cleaners
Tom Hallman - Pacer Performance, Inc.
Tad Barber - RE/MAX Tattersall Group, LLC
Terry Michalske - Savannah River National Lab
Teresa Haas - Savannah River Nuclear Solutions
Scott Neely - SCE&G
Richard Harmon - Security Federal Bank
Chris Verenes - Security Federal Bank
Steve Wilson - SRP Federal Credit Union
Rick McLeod - SRSCRO

Collette Ball - State Farm Insurance Agency
Sandra Jordan - University of South Carolina Aiken

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