Beautiful Greenville opens eyes to Tallahassee potential

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Trivia time. How many Greenvilles are there in the United States? 36. Which one do you think of when you think of Greenville? If you said South Carolina, winner winner chicken dinner for you. I had the opportunity to join the Chamber of Commerce’s Community Leadership mission to Greenville and I am going to give the experience an A+.

We visited a city that is literally booming. It was as one of the developers said in our meetings, “a 40 year overnight success.” What once was a small city with an extinct textile economy in between Charlotte and Atlanta is now a destination town with a vibrant economy. What happened?

Some bold leaders in the public and private sectors made some courageous and unpopular moves (and expensive) that started with uncovering a hidden treasure. There was once a river and waterfall that ran through the city but it was covered up and forgotten. Until some intense planning and lobbying took place to bring it back. I believe he said it was a 20 year battle to get it done.

“The rising ride floats all ships,” meaning everyone benefits from a booming economy, said one of the speakers that we get to hear from. Once the park became a reality, then came a Hyatt, then a baseball stadium, then came Brooks Brothers, a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and condos, lots and lots of condos. To give you some perspective they said there were 15 restaurants in or around downtown 30 years ago, now there are over 100.

The Chamber of Commerce here in Tallahassee put a tremendous amount of planning into this visit to make sure it was a good investment of everyone’s time. There were representatives from all aspects of  city and county government as well as leaders in PR, finance, real estate, and technology, too (that would be me).

We went from business to business learning everything we could about their successes, which include having two dedicated city employees pick up cigarette butts off the street, to bringing in BMW (9,000 jobs) and Michelin (2,000 jobs) to the market.

So Greenville has the 24-7 vibrant downtown, booming industry, what else? Tremendous access to education. Furman, Clemson and the University of South Carolina are all in the area, but it’s not just about higher education.

Get this, they have an engineering track for elementary, middle school and high school students? Who does that? They do. They are preparing people for high paying jobs in their region from a very young age. They are more importantly developing and keeping their own talent pool in state.

And just to make sure they cover all the bases (baseball pun alert) they have a minor league baseball team, The Greenville Drive (an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox) right in the middle of downtown. We toured the facility, Fluor Field (a replica of Fenway), and it is first class all the way.

Just like everything else in the town it is immaculate, they have two employees who have degrees in turf management. I did not know that was a thing. It is apparently a thing. They average 4,000 guests for each game and it is indeed a high value community asset.

One of the other extremely valuable parts of the trip was to spend time with the leaders of our community, outside of the day to day grind. Mayor Dailey, Commissioner Dozier, Jeremy from Target Print and Mail, Yuh-Mei from Golden Lighting, Michelle from Sachs Media, Heidi from Salter Mitchell,  Jay at Ajax, Moore, Daniel at Structure, Premier Fine Homes, Nai Talcor, and Moore Bass leadership, everyone there was fully engaged.

Kudos to the chamber for making it happen, and a sincere thanks to all that invested their time to be there.

These above mentioned people are the ones that together can work together to make Tallahassee an even greater community. Who is going to step up first for the next “big” idea for North Florida?

I chatted specifically with one of those leaders, Thomas Asbury Jr. from Premier Fine Homes and he had the following to say on the subject.

“We had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit about what Greenville has to offer both businesses as well as its residents in their downtown. Toward the beginning of the trip most of the conversations revolved around all the things we need to change to be more like Greenville. However, by the end of the trip, the conversations completely flipped and we were more concerned with how we can amplify the assets we already have,” Asbury said.

“Greenville has some truly amazing features, like a winding river and gorgeous water fall. Well, we won’t ever have a river or waterfall. However, we do have Cascades Park, we do have the Universities, we do have Kleman Plaza, we do have Adams Street, and we do have midtown. We truly do have the assets/anchor points, we just need to do a better job connecting them together. With that said, we can’t be scared to make positive changes. I believe the recently approved mixed-use development next to Cascades Park is a great first step to a vibrant downtown,” Asbury said.

As I was telling Sue from the Chamber, it is getting close to the time where Tallahassee can be hosts and not guests of these kind of trips. Keep the innovations coming North Florida, and knock down the barriers to success where you can. Perhaps a performing arts center? (Potbellies, while awesome, doesn’t count, Jay Revell.) A semi-pro sports team? Convention center? How about a high-end miniature golf course?

It is up to us to pave the way as the future is now.