Summit brings students, community together

March 2, 2008

By: Liz Foreman

CPU1

Image Source: http://www.wacochamber.com

The Second Annual College-Community Summit gave students a peek outside the Baylor bubble, most prominently including a look at downtown development projects that will significantly affect the future of Waco.

Hosted by the Community Involvement Council and Baylor Student Government, the community summit brought a fresh outlook, featuring presentations by key players in the future development of downtown. The Waco Strategic Economic Development Plan, which will cost around 1 billion dollars, aims to stimulate the economy and promote culture in a new community-oriented urban center.

Waco boasts a diverse industry and a balanced job market which makes it a desirable place for investors, Scott Connell, senior vice president of strategic development for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce said.

"Waco is one of the most competitive banking markets in the country," Connell said, "Banks want to be here because of the types of industry here."

Since 2005, Waco has added 3,782 new jobs and attracted 15 new companies. Such growth promises new opportunities for employment of Baylor graduates and other individuals in the same age bracket.

One field that will offer an abundance of new jobs is health care, with the construction of the Providence Health Center.

"We would grow a lot faster if there were people to fill the jobs at the new hospital," Connell said. "There's a lapse in employment there because of the training required for these jobs."

"As a senior, listening to the speakers at the community summit really opened my eyes to the possibilities that are available in Waco after graduation," El Paso senior Mallory Driggers said. "It's sad to think that most Baylor students, and especially seniors, don't know about opportunities."

A goal of this year's summit was to encourage students to stay in Waco after graduating, External Vice President Bryan Fonville said.

"I sincerely hope that students walked away from the community summit with a different perception of Waco," he said. "You know, so many people come through this school in four years, leave town, and then come back for the occasional homecoming parade or class reunion. I hope students will begin to see Waco as the place to settle down, start a family, and the place to live their lives."

Waco's economy and business market are expected to receive a boost with the implementation of downtown's strategic development.

The strategic economic development plan for Waco aims to bring a sense of community, as well as investment, to downtown Waco without making it look like a typical urban center, Chris McGowan, director of urban development for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce said.

"It's hard to attract people and investors to a city that looks like every other city," McGowan said. "We want to create attractive places that provide a variety of uses in a competitive manner, where people can live, work and play in the same space."

Part of this push for community atmosphere will take place on the third Thursday of every month starting in May. The monthly event, called Third Thursdays, will feature an outdoor movie and food vendors.

The new infrastructure of downtown will be oriented towards people, not automobiles, McGowan added.

More specifically, strategic development will link Baylor with the downtown culture.

It takes approximately eight minutes to walk from the Baylor campus to downtown, but it's not the best walk, McGowan said. The city plans to figure out how to accommodate the linkage between the campus and downtown.

Mayor Virginia DuPuy echoed McGowan's desire to improve Baylor's connection to the community, specifically through the river walk project.

"The vision is to have Baylor connecting up to downtown," Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy said. "Baylor administration is working closely with the city as we go forward with projects."

Within the next five years, the city plans to undertake an ambitious project to construct a river walk extending along the Brazos from Fort Fisher to the Ferrell Center.

In addition to the river walk, a high-end student housing complex, available for rent in 2009, will help bring students into the heart of downtown. The new complex will provide a new type of urban living for students.

"The plans for downtown Waco will have an exponential effect on the atmosphere in our community and will bring people from all over the community to one central area," Fonville said. "I think students can expect to see a big cultural regeneration in downtown Waco, and I think Baylor students can expect to play a large role in that change."