Gattis Leadership group makes annual visit

Friday, January 31, 2014

By Karen Hall


Members of the 2014 Gattis Leadership group spent a day and a half in Lewisburg last week, meeting local leaders, and visiting local industries and the Spot Lowe Technology Center. They concluded their visit with a tour of the Rec Center and a final round-table meeting.

This was the second Gattis Leadership group to visit Marshall County.

Last year, when the first group visited, Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, explained how the regional group was started by graduates of Leadership Marshall.

"It took a couple of years to get a board and all the necessary ingredients," Wiles said at that time.

"We took all the best practices and formed our own," he continued. "We started with the board being the (charter) class. This (2013) is the first actual class."

The group is named after the late Peggy Gattis, the former executive of Metropolitan Moore County/Lynchburg, who died in a car crash in June 2009.

"You gain two or three new friends a year from each county," added Wiles. "The alumni (group) really gets to be something."

Group members arrived Thursday afternoon and tasted some Brother's Fine Foods before touring the Dixie and meeting back at City Hall for a presentation from Wiles and Director of Economic Development Greg Lowe.

"It's better than it was, and going in the right direction," said Lowe, about Lewisburg's recovery. He showed a picture of ground breaking at the site of Imperial Foods' factory and called it "the spark of our turnaround," while admitting Marshall County's unemployment is still the highest in the region.

Lowe highly recommended the Tennessee Valley Authority to representatives of neighboring counties.

"TVA has a beneficial economic development mindset," Lowe said. "They can offer real help and assistance."

Friday morning, group members had a full schedule, visiting the recycling center, Cosmolab, Spot Lowe, and Cedar Ridge landfill.

They enjoyed a catered lunch in the upstairs studio at Marshall County Art Guild's new location on the square, and heard a lively presentation from Waste Management's Robert Cheney.

He highlighted what the company puts back into the county every year, including 23 well-paid jobs, a fee paid to the county, and free disposal of trash. Cheney quantified the benefit at $1.5 million annually. Waste Management also gives back to the community with college scholarships, a golf tournament, and gifts, like new scoreboards for high school ball fields.

"Are we perfect?" Cheney asked. "No, but we're responsible."

At the final session at the Rec Center, group members praised Lewisburg's downtown, and asked who was working on it.

This was answered by Community Development Board Chairman Edmund Roberts. He talked about the Vision Plan, to be presented to the council next week, and also about the Lewisburg Downtown Alliance.

"We're trying to give them help," Roberts said. "It's something you have to keep after all the time."

Debbie Landers of Lewis County said Hohenwald's downtown was "like a ghost town" a few years ago, but is doing much better now.

"You can sit around and grouse, or do something about it," she said. "Everybody wants to do something, but it's hard to focus the energy."

"It starts with everyone pulling together," agreed Lewisburg Mayor Jim Bingham. "If we work together, Lewisburg and Marshall County will flourish."

"Our worst enemy is the negativity we feel," said Lynda Potts. "How do you convey there are good things going on all the time?"

"We're all alike in a lot of ways," said Landers. "Sometimes you just have to 'plough around the stump.'"

"We don't communicate enough," said Beth Keaton of Lawrence County. "Communication is the key to combating negativity."

"We're working on getting the word out," said City Manager Randall Dunn. "We're working on developing our own identity. Our next big push will be retail recruitment."

He has his sights set on attracting a good chain restaurant, something that Shelbyville and Columbia don't have, so that people from outside the county drive to Lewisburg to eat.