Incoming Chamber leader says it’s time for a Tallahassee community trip

From the Tallahassee Democrat

GREENVILLE, S.C. — The next business leader to head the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors wants a community fact-finding trip to explore Tallahassee assets.

Beth Corum, co-chief operating officer for Capital City Bank, was struck with the idea during this week’s three-day Chamber sponsored trip to Greenville, South Carolina. The city decided to make its downtown an economic recruitment carrot to lure residents and businesses and turned its waterfall on the Reedy River into its crown jewel.

Apartments, retail and commercial business mushroomed around the river after Greenville officials took bold steps, like rerouting a highway, to showcase the once neglected feature long used as a dumping ground for dyes from the town’s mills. Many on the Chamber trip said Cascades Park, a once undesirable brownfield turned community destination, is Tallahassee’s Reedy River.

Corum said she suspects there are more programs and assets already in play in Tallahassee than people know about. They may see bits and pieces, she said, but not the full picture.

“As I talk to other attendees,” Corum said, “you realize we know a little bit about what we do in Tallahassee and how we measure against what Greenville (is doing) … but none  have a real complete picture of what Tallahassee has done, is currently doing or has plans to do.”

When the idea for a community meeting came up during Wednesday morning’s wrap up, it was received with applause and head nods. The goal, Corum said, would be to compare, contrast and determine what is needed to strengthen Tallahassee’s economic muscle. Details of such a local outing will be worked out once the group returns.

Greenville reminded attendees of Tallahassee, and many said capturing similar success depends on making the right choices at the right time. And that time is now, said Terrie Ard, president and COO of Moore Communications.

Ard facilitated the wrap up session that herded the group’s ideas sketched on 517 feedback cards collected after each tour stop into five themes: vision; community plan and brand; talent and workforce; economic development; airport and downtown.

Each theme was spelled out on giant notepads for brainstorming sessions. An “other” pad had ideas, such as addressing poverty, crime and affordable housing.

The group prioritized projects by putting different color stickers on ones to be done within 12 months and long term efforts to be completed over four or five years, in time for Tallahassee bicentennial.

Based on the stickers, the group said settling the issue of the airport’s governance should be a top priority within the next 12 months, along with creating a community plan and vision — a theme carried over from the Nashville, Tennessee, trip in 2017.

County Commissioner Bryan Desloge said it was important to remember Greenville’s economic come-back story didn’t happen in a year. Bob Hughes, a Greenville developer who spoke to the Tallahassee group on the first day, said called theirs a “46-year overnight success story.”

“I look back at Cascades. I look back at Gaines Street, and I remember the first visions of that and everybody threw their hands up and said, “Oh, we can’t do this’,” Desloge said. “Now looking back, everybody says, ‘Where would we be without that?'”