No person should have to start a business trip at 3 a.m. Nevertheless, that’s what I did. I grabbed my cup of coffee, checked to make sure I had all of my things and left my house in the dark while my family slept. Fifteen minutes later, I joined several other people as we prepared to depart for our trip to Gainesville, Florida. The rest of the group, like me, was sleep deprived, but we were also passionate enough about Columbia to not only spend the next three days learning ways to improve Columbia, but to start at the ungodly hour of 3 a.m.

The trip I speak of is the second Columbia Chamber of Commerce Leadership Visit. A group of civic and business leaders joined together to seek answers to the challenges we face as a community. We hoped to find some of these answers not only in the successes of similar cities, but also in our own collaboration. Even a simple bus ride across a city can raise questions that you hadn’t considered and bring answers from someone you hadn’t met before.

As we would sit at a meal or recap after a presentation, we realized that nearly all of us agreed that a few items were our biggest issues to deal with. We didn’t all agree on how they should be handled, but the list of needs had been created:

  • An airport terminal that serves our community and provides a proper “front porch” for our city, as well as a more robust service schedule.
  • A public transportation system that not only serves the needs of our community (what are those, anyway?), but is also profitable.
  • A team of consistently collaborative leaders between the university, the city, public education, police and economic development; a team that ditches their cell phones, as well as their egos, at the door.
  • A police department that treats their community and youth with empathy and connects them with resources to be helpful, not hurtful — and vice versa.
  • Media leaders willing to give a voice to the silent majority and minimize the influence of the often ill-informed and loud-spoken minority.

I know that there are many worthy issues in our city to be addressed. And I know that we have all the resources we need to handle them. I saw firsthand the passion and purpose needed to solve any problem that Columbia faces. I experienced people from different backgrounds, different political views and different economic circumstances all coming together with a spirit of collaboration and commitment. I know that if there are 40 of us, then there are 400, 4,000 or even 40,000 of us — people who have opinions, care about our community and would like to do something to help. We just don’t know where to start. It seems so big, and it seems like we are so little. Who are we anyway? Why would anyone listen to what we have to say? Besides, we’re all busy.

People would listen because you have the answer. Maybe not you alone, but your collaboration with a banker, a small business owner, a student and a stay-at-home mom will lead to the answers we need. The answer lies in the act of collaboration itself.

It’s in this light that I challenge you to do one thing: 

Go to one city council meeting. Tired of the Trib Talkers and the “anonymous” getting all the mic time? Then show up. Just once. Let them see and hear someone else. Show our city council that we care about how issues in our city are handled. This is one small thing that all of us can do that would have a big impact. This was the number one request of the council members I spoke with. Show up and be heard.

I arrived home from Gainesville at about 11 p.m. on the third day. I was exhausted, in dire need of a shower and had my mind melted from the influx of inspiration. Nevertheless, I was excited to go to work the next day, planning on incorporating some of our findings into the next issue. I texted idea after idea to Brenna McDermott, CBT editor, as I was learning so many things that I never would have learned had I not left the safety of my known circle. For me to be in a room of 40 people who passionately believe in Columbia, and love it and invest in it as I do, was an absolute treat. I tweeted the entire trip  (follow me @epeff). I imagined myself coming back from Gainesville, mounting a horse and giving a very Braveheart-esque performance in front of City Hall yelling “Who’s with me??!!”

I don’t have a horse. So, this column will suffice. What issue will you follow up on at a council meeting? Where will you “mount up”?

Continue to read the pages of CBT this year to see what topics we tackle in order to get to the root of our city’s issues. If there’s something you’d like CBT to look at in the coming year, email me at  I want to hear from you.

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