GREENE COUNTY — With just 90 days left until the first presidential debate hits the Wright State University Nutter Center — university and neighboring community officials are working hand-in-hand to make the event a success.
“We are all in this together,” said Jeff Brock, Greene County debate organizer, Greene Memorial Foundation president and Beavercreek Chamber of Commerce vice chair. “This is a great opportunity for us to celebrate this community and celebrate what I call our ‘distinct Midwestern values and principals’ and highlight those for any who will be covering this debate.”
As Wright State learned that it would be the home of the first presidential debate for the 2016 election, it personally contacted community leaders to inform them of the local history-in-the-making and created a committee. It includes Fairborn, Beavercreek, Riverside and Dayton mayors and chamber of commerce presidents, Greene, Montgomery and Clark County commissioners and various other community leaders, according to Ryan Rushing, a member of the Wright State Debate Planning Committee.
Greene County responded by creating the Debate Task Team for Greene County, which Brock said includes all active chambers with a leader, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greene County commissioners office and leadership from the Cities of Fairborn and Beavercreek. They meet at least every two weeks and have been doing so since April.
“All are on board, even in Greene County, this has been a great opportunity to bring us all together and certainly promote Wright State,” Brock said. “We’re proud that they’re a part of this county and we always reinforce that they are a part of this county, but [we] also [want] to promote our part in this region as well. Greene County has a lot to offer.”
As the event inches nearer, the grindstone will get closer to the Wright State committee’s and Greene County task team’s noses and locals will experience the debate becoming a more prominent theme in the region. It is expected to draw approximately 3,000-4,000 of story-hungry media members to the Miami Valley, which the committee and task team is preparing for: members put their heads together and determined that they would emphasize the region’s richness in history, including the Wright Brothers and the area’s ties to the roots of flight.
“Certainly our efforts are focused on welcoming and hosting the media since they are our guests. This gives us the opportunity to give them story lines, so to speak, as to what makes our region great,” Brock said. “Aviation plays a strong part in that, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base plays a strong part as well, and even the entrepreneurial spirit and ingenious engineering nature in this part of the country, is all part of that highlight.”
Citizens will see the Wright Brothers being celebrated, including Orville’s and Wilbur’s famous bowler hats. Greene County community members could see them appear in a variety of places and events, and Wright State students lucky enough to receive a ticket through the school’s lottery process will be handed a bowler hat upon entering the debate hall the night of the event.
“The Dayton region knows that it should be known for the Wright Brothers; Wright State University is named after the Wright Brothers,” said Seth Bauguess, director of communications for Wright State. “I think a lot of people want our guests (media members) … to walk away knowing that the Wright Brothers are from here and that Wright State is named after them. I expect that to manifest in all kinds of creative ways. The bowler hats is just one of them.”
Each individual community is working to highlight its best assets. Although the debate is specifically being held at the Nutter Center, Wright State debate organizers are telling its neighboring community leaders to “be selfish” in terms of using this event as an opportunity to show itself.
Media members are expected to land and park in the area about a week before the presidential candidates face off. Local debate organizers are working to make media representatives feel welcomed as it is in the process of creating “media kits,” including a region guidebook that is expected to include information about the respective areas. Wright State asked individuals from the participating communities to provide a “brief ” on the communities themselves, which can be given to media representatives in hopes of planting seeds for story ideas, and connecting them to the correct individuals to speak with if one sprouts.
“We’re here to serve our students, faculty, staff, and the communities,” Rushing said. “We get our strengths from bringing the community together … We view this as just what we do, part of our DNA. We’re a public institution, so we want to be out in the community. They supports us, so we want to support them.”
The task team and the committee is encouraging community members to host debate “watch parties” the night of the event. Brock feels that doing so is important because some media members will not have the opportunity to report the event from within the Nutter Center, so they may experience the historic night from the couch of a watch party instead. Debate organizers feel that hosting a watch party allows direct participation from Greene County residents and Wright State students, which Brock emphasized as the heart of the democratic process.
“I think the most exciting part is this is an opportunity to show a single face,” Brock said, adding that one of the Task Team’s goals includes continuing to work together after the debate closes shop. “That certainly has a benefit for the debate, but I think it also has benefits in the long-run — that we are participating in something that is bigger than ourselves and ultimately will carry on beyond ourselves. Here in Greene County, it’s our opportunity to think beyond the debate to opportunities to cooperate and make ourselves stronger as a county, part of the region in the long run … The debate is not an end-all, it’s just part of our journey.”
And Wright State has already started taking steps toward that goal — it’s in the process of distributing surveys across “Raider Country”, or the 16 counties served by Wright State, to eventually host annual issue forums. These events would highlight items that impact the region. However, Wright State is focusing its energy toward lifting the debate as high off the ground as possible, so the first issue forum has yet to be determined.
“It brings our community together in a tremendous way,” Rushing said. “Many think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but we view it as a first in a lifetime opportunity … If we can do this well, put pressure the Commission on Presidential Debates to get the debate, we can bring it back in 2020, 2024 and be the debate sight in Ohio.”
Whitney Vickers can be reached by calling her directly at 937-502-4532.