More than 120 business owners and executives, elected and appointed officials, non-profit representatives, and community leaders joined the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama July 21-23 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the third annual Benchmarking Trip, presented by The University of Alabama.
Selected for a range of reasons that include the city's riverfront and downtown redevelopment, affordable housing program, and evolution to a magnet for educated talent, the delegation heard from business leaders, entrepreneurs and government officials who told the story of Chattanooga's transformation.
At a welcome reception Sunday evening, attendees heard from Cameron Doody, Co-founder and President of Bellhops, Inc., which offers a price-friendly alternative to traditional moving companies, and Wade Hinton, the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Unum, who formerly served as the City Attorney of Chattanooga.
Kim White, President and CEO, River City Company, discussed Chattanooga's strategic approach to economic development in the downtown and riverfront areas. "River City Company was established to wake up every day focused on implementing the Tennessee River Park Master Plan," White explained. A private non-profit, River City acquired riverfront property to ensure quality development as well as adherence to the masterplan.
The economic development engine for downtown Chattanooga, River City Company cultivates and advocates for a vibrant and healthy downtown, stimulating the community's economic, cultural, and social growth. River City boasts an annual budget of $3.6 million, with no funds from the city or county. Their $1.2 million operating budet is funded from RCC development revenue, and fundraising brings in approximately $300,000 annually. Successful projects include the Tennessee River Walk, Tennessee Aquarium, Walnut Street Bridge, the downtown Riverset Apartment Complex, and more.
Attendees also received an in-depth look at how Chattangooga became the first city in the United States to offer gigabit speed internet service citywide, courtesy of Hodgen Mainda, Vice President for Community Development, EPB. The municipal utility launched EPB Fiber Optics in 2009, and today has a 9,000-mile fiber network and advanced smart grid. Reducing outages by 50 percent, the smart grid saves customers more than $50 million per year.
Mainda discussed the options for bringing fast broadband to other communities. As an eco-friendly, cost-effective solution, Mainda said fiber is the future. "The business case can look challenging because capital costs are substantial, and you will have competition from the incumbent provider," he said. "but it fits communities better than private companies."
In the afternoon, attendees tackled challenges such as crime and blight, and heard from Chief David Roddy of the Chattanooga Police Department, and Donna Williams, the Director of Economic and Community Development for the City of Chattanooga.
During breakout sessions, topics included talent development, entrepreneurship and small business development, workforce housing, and arts and culture.
Following the work sessions, the group visited the Hunter Museum of American Art, where they were joined by the Honorable Bob Corker, former United States Senator and former Mayor of Chattanooga, who played a critical role in the city's downtown development and economic growth.
On Tuesday, attendees delved into the economic impact of tourism, and the future of Chattanooga. Convening at the Chattanooga Convention Center, Brian Murphy with the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Mike Shuford with the Convention Center discussed the billion dollar tourism industry and experience economy.
The group also heard from Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who took questions from the group on a range of topics, and Christy Gillenwater, the President and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, who gave the group an overview of , a visioning process and part of a five-year economic development strategy.
In a wrap-up session prior to leaving Chattanooga, the group discussed key lessons learned, facilitated by Dr. Jacqueline Morgan of The University of Alabama. Benchmarking attendees will meet in August to discuss next steps and action items.
2019 Benchmarking Trip Participants
, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Tuscaloosa Police Department; , The University of Alabama; , City of Tuscaloosa; , JamisonMoneyFarmer PC; , Allstate Coley Agency; , City of Tuscaloosa; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Home Instead Senior Care of Tuscaloosa; , Home Instead Senior Care of Tuscaloosa; , Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority; , The Tuscaloosa News; , Allstate Coley Agency; , TCC Acquisition Partners, LLC; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Wells Fargo Bank; , Pritchett-Moore, Inc., , Townsquare Media; , Harry's Bar; , Kentuck; , Echols, Taylor & Associates; , Bryant Bank; , Ellis Architects, Inc.; , The University of Alabama; , Harry's Bar; , Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; , The Locker Room; , Jalapenos Mexican Grill; , FNB of Central Alabama; , Barge Design Solutions; ; , Tuscaloosa City Board of Education; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Buffalo Rock Company / Pepsi-Cola; , Harrison Galleries, LLC; , City of Northport; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Knight Sign Industries; , Southern Ale House / Dotson's; , FNB of Central Alabama; , City of Tuscaloosa; , JamisonMoneyFarmer PC; ; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; , Raymond James; , Kyle Office Solutions; , Ward Scott Architecture; , Simplified Medical Management, LLC; , City of Northport; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Rosen Harwood, P.A.; , A Bean Counter, LLC; , Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; ; , The WHMZ Group at Morgan Stanley; ; , TTL, Inc.; , Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; ; , Behavioral Health Facility Consulting, LLC; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Tuscaloosa County Park & Recreation Authority; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Shelton State Community College; , Pritchett-Moore, Inc.; , The University of Alabama; , Rosen Harwood, P.A.; , Ward Scott Architecture; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Owens & Millsaps, LLP; , Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; , Parker Towing Company; , SmartBank; , Miers Pass Philanthropy; , Mind Changers, Inc.; , Plaster, Scarvey and Shumaker of Ameriprise Financial; , Watson & Poole, LLC, Alabama House of Representatives; , Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa; , WVUA23; ; ; Bill Lunsford Construction, Inc.; , City of Tuscaloosa; ; , Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports; , Randall-Reilly, LLC; , Eatmybeats, Inc.,; , Eatmybeats, Inc.; , The Tuscaloosa News; , Tuscaloosa County Commission; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Cooper Shattuck, LLC; , Hamner Real Estate, Inc.; , Alabama Transportation Institute; , City of Tuscaloosa; ; ; , Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports; , Alabama ONE; , BBVA; , Community Service Programs of West Alabama, Inc.; , Alabama Power Company; , Synovus; ; , The University of Alabama; , The University of Alabama System; , City of Tuscaloosa; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Tuscaloosa Police Department; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Theatre Tuscaloosa; , Regions Bank; , TTL, Inc.; ; , Community Service Programs of West Alabama, Inc.; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Tuscaloosa County District Attorney's Office; , SmartBank; , City of Tuscaloosa; , Tuscaloosa City Board of Education; , Winter McFarland, LLC; , Regions Bank; , The Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, Inc.; , FRSTeam; , City of Tuscaloosa.
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