Northwest Independence continues to become a more vibrant community and will enjoy significant advantages in the years to come, a local hospital executive said Thursday night.

Northwest Independence continues to become a more vibrant community and will enjoy significant advantages in the years to come, a local hospital executive said Thursday night.

“It’s the right place at the right time with the right leadership,” Charlie Shields, chief operating officer of Truman Medical Centers, said at the annual gala of the NorthWest Communities Development Corporation.

Looking at both national trends and the history of how the metro area came to have so much suburban sprawl, Shields said several things are swinging northwest Independence’s way. He pointed to three critical needs for any successful community – effective leadership, vision and “competitive advantages” that include geography, education and diversity.

A key step, he said, was in 2007 when voters “had the foresight to make things right” and transfer northwest Independence and Sugar Creek schools into the Independence School District – and standardized test scores and other measures have improved sharply.

“So that competitive advantage is there,” Shields said. “The schools have gone from being a distraction to being a point of pride in the community.”

The area also enjoys an abundance of smaller homes – in line with demand in a nation of shrinking families – that are relatively close to jobs. While cheap land, cheap gas and good suburban schools encouraged sprawl in the metro area and elsewhere for decades, Shields said, the era of cheap transportation is over. An Olathe resident will spend $6,284 a year on transportation to get to a job in downtown Kansas City, but a Fairmount resident will spend just $2,193, he said.

Shields also pointed to the nation’s rapidly changing demographics – those of Hispanic and Asian descent accounted for 92 percent of the nation’s growth noted in the last census – and said not every community will embrace diversity but that northwest Independence has, with a range of programs to reach out and help people.

“Independence and northwest Independence will be one of the communities that will reap the benefits of the compassion you’re showing now,” he said.

These advantages – vibrancy, safe neighborhoods, good schools, good access to health care – add up, he said.

“In short, what we’re trying to build is a community everyone wants to live in,” he said.

TMC’s Lakewood location draws many of its patients from Independence, and it has opened clinics and other services in the city. It’s not just about running a hospital, Shields said.

“Really the job is to improve the health of the community,” he said.

The NorthWest CDC is based in the Fairmount neighborhood and runs a community center at 217 S. Cedar Ave. in the old St. Ann School. The group on Thursday also honored eight “most valuable partners,” organizations that have helped greatly during the past decade. Those eight are:

The city of Independence, which recognized the group as the first CDC in the city and provided a “weed and seed” anti-crime grant that was crucial in the group’s early days.

King Hershey, the Kansas City law firm that, among other things, helped the CDC will a $4.2 million federal grant for senior apartments in Fairmount. “King Hershey guided us through that,” Executive Director Bill Rogers said.

BP America Inc., which gave key startup funding.

The Local Investment Commission, commonly called LINC, which was instrumental in early organizing work.

The Truman Heartland Community Foundation, the Jackson County Legislature and the United Way of Greater Kansas City, which have provided ongoing funding.

Bayer CropScience, which runs a massive plant in the nearby Kansas City East Bottoms and is “an organization that we’ve always been able to count on,” Rogers said.

The Richard A. King Civic Engagement Award was given to the recently retired Dr. Wayne Letizia, who for decades maintained a practice on Truman Road even as other doctors moved to newer parts of the city. The practice, Heartland Medical Care, is still there, and Letizia said he made it a priority to find a doctor to replace himself, serving “people who need to have a physician in the area.”