By OLIVIA BERGMEIER
The Stiefel Theatre Stage hosted a different type of performance on Thursday, Nov. 9 — an event centered around Salina's performance through the years, economically and culturally.
Vortex's President and CEO, Travis Young, took to the stage and presented the "Salina Flywheel," representing how Salina drives its economic power.
Video created by USD 305
"This community is moving and retaining our businesses," Young said. "It's attracting new businesses and people, and we're doing a great job."
On Thursday, Nov. 9, Salina Public Schools USD 305 hosted its third Building Bridges night, allowing business owners, local experts, students and the community to interact and learn more about each other's specialties.
"The goal of the program is to get businesses together and share ideas," said USD 305 Secondary Education Director Curtis Stevens. "This is an opportunity really for us to expose the students to what exists in employment. It helps them make connections for internships, possible summer jobs, and employment training opportunities that exist here in Salina."
The evening began with USD 305 culinary interns providing finger foods to event guests. At 5:30, Stevens welcomed guests and introduced Young to the stage.
Stevens began by telling Salina's story, referencing the significant economic impact Schilling Air Force Base once had on the community and how it continues to affect Salina today.
"Our community values connecting people and connecting different ideas, not resting on our laurels of past success. However, this has not always been the case," Stevens said. "For the longest time, Salina was very similar to many communities, businesses, and organizations — simply put — it once relied heavily upon its previous success."
Schilling Air Force Base once accounted for a quarter of Salina's population and almost a third of its economic value, and when the base closed, it took all the added value with it.
Stevens said many local businesses and residents thought the town would fall into irrelevancy after the base left.
Still, with a few driven community members, the city shifted its focus to growth.
"This one piece of the nation's military arsenal would be transitioned into a huge piece of our local economy, moving us from a small western town of local peddlers to a town of products on a global enterprise."
Young then took the stage, presenting how Salina businesses and non-profit groups impact the city and its growth.
According to Young, Salina's businesses, murals, and community contribute to the town's success, providing unique experiences for locals and visitors.
"We're creating unique life experiences," Young said. "If we do that, we can't help but increase visitation, and we have done that... If we increase visitation, we can't help but generate more commerce — we're getting that flywheel going. New businesses, new restaurants and new retail distribution centers are opening, things that Salina has never seen before."
After concluding his speech, Building Bridges hosted multiple breakout sessions focusing on industries like marketing, STEM careers and education.
The breakout sessions focused on recruiting and building up employees, ways to lead, and critical factors in the industries.
Salina South High School student Jose Garcia, 17, attended with two other students and learned new things about the community during Young's presentation.
"(Young) mentioned all the things that they're doing and changing," Garcia said. "I think a lot of people my age are like, 'Oh, when I grow up I'm going to leave — Salina is terrible,' but I feel like I haven't really felt that. I really enjoy Salina, it's a nice community, and I think it's cool that they're trying to change for the better."