Greenville 2017: Chamber Takes 70+ on Inaugural Benchmarking Trip

More than 70 Chamber members and community leaders traveled to Greenville, South Carolina, July 23-25, for the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama's inaugural benchmarking trip.

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Chosen for how Greenville has embraced smart growth, downtown redevelopment and a knowledge based, entrepreneurial economy, participants heard from individuals directly responsible for Greenville's transformation, and were inspired to apply those successes in West Alabama.

"I think it was a great trip and I really enjoyed visiting Greenville," says Bruce Higginbotham, Northport City Engineer and Interim City Administrator. "It was very informative and we learned a lot from them. I was especially interested in hearing how they transformed themselves through the years. This was not an overnight process, but they committed themselves to it and they have created an incredible living environment for their citizens. In a lot of ways, Northport is in a similar position. The City has tremendous assets and is a growing community. We can improve our community by highlighting these assets and moving forward in a planned, proactive way."  

Speakers for the benchmarking trip included public officials, elected representatives and entrepreneurs from the area, all who discussed the transformative atmosphere in the community. Greenville's once-dormant city center has now become a national model for downtown redevelopment. 

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The group began the agenda with a presentation from Hank Hyatt, Vice President, Economic Competitiveness, Greenville Chamber of Commerce, who highlighted the difference in Greenville before and after the transformation.

"You must make yourself open to new people and new ideas," Hyatt told the crowd.

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The group also visited NEXT Innovation Center to learn about the area's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, which has allowed Greenville to retain young talent. Speakers included John Moore, President and CEO of NEXT and Harold Hughes, Founder and CEO of BandwagonFanClub, Inc.

"Until the city began to provide opportunities, Greenville's greatest export was talented young people," said Bill West, Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Ellipsis Technologies, Inc.

During a visit to City Hall, the group met with Greenville city officials Matt Efird, Budget Administrator; Kevin Howard, Economic Development Analyst and Ginny Stroud, Community Development Administrator.

Howard spoke on the importance of creating a sense of place. "You must capitalize on your assets and the uniqueness of your community," he said. "Use public investement to leverage economic development. Focus on centrally located investments and use them as catalysts. Be willing to take risks. Focus on quality, not quantity."

Following a luncheon with Mayor Knox White, during which he talked about some of the challenges faced by the city, the group headed to Clemson ONE for a presentation on higher education and talent retention.

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In the afternoon, attendees divided into breakout groups during which Mark Farris, President and CEO of the Greenville Area Development Corporation; John Lummus, President and CEO of Upstate Alliance and Mike Panasko, Business Development Manager for the City of Greenville led one group through promoting regional cooperation in economic development.

A second group met with Alan Ethridge, the Executive Director of the Greenville Metropolitan Arts Council and Lesley Craddock, Marketing and Media Director of the Greenville Tourism Commission to discuss how the city promotes the arts, culture and tourism.

The third breakout group tackled workforce development with Jay Blankenship, Regional Workforce Advisor for the South Carolina Department of Commerce; Dean Jones, Workforce Development Administrator, SC Works Greenville; and Nika White, Senior Advisor for Diversity and Inclusion for the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

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After some free time in the afternoon to explore downtown Greenville, the participants met for dinner. Following a welcome by Dr. Stuart Bell on behalf of the University of Alabama, the event's presenting sponsor, the group heard from Carlos Phillips, President and CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, and Bo Aughtry, Chairman and CEO, Windsor Aughtry.

Before leaving Greenville on Tuesday, the group had a wrap-up session to identify next steps and action items.

2017 Greenville Inaugural Benchmarking Trip Attendees:

Amy Ahmed, The Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, Inc.Dr. Stuart BellThe University of AlabamaBen BickerstaffThe University of Alabama - Office of Technology TransferDan BlakleyRegions BankJo BonnerThe University of Alabama SystemBobby BraggJamisonMoneyFarmer PCAudrey BuckCity of Tuscaloosa - Office of Urban DevelopmentPaul ConnollyTCC Acquisition Partners, LLCSteven DealPritchett-Moore, Inc.Steve DiorioWVUA 23Amy EcholsKentuck Art CenterClaude EdwardsBryant BankMike EllisEllis ArchitectsErica GrantTuscaloosa City Board of EducationVikki GrodnerThe Drish House / Grodner Group - Events at DrishChris GunterBuffalo Rock Company/Pepsi-ColaCrockett HaileyDority & Manning, P.A. (Greenville, SC)Jim Harrison, IIIHarrison Galleries, LLCBruce HigginbothamCity of NorthportJoe HocuttSouthland Benefit Solutions, LLCCal HoltKnight Sign Industries, Inc. / Southern Ale House, LLCJustin HoltSouthern Ale House, LLCDr. Leroy HurtThe University of Alabama - College of Continuing StudiesBobby IngramJamisonMoneyFarmer PCMolly IngramDCH Health SystemKaty Beth JacksonCity of Tuscaloosa - Office of Urban DevelopmentCarl JamisonJamisonMoneyFarmer PCAndy JochamTuscaloosa County Industrial Development AuthorityDonny JonesChamber of Commerce of West AlabamaDr. Chuck KarrThe University of Alabama - College of EngineeringPatrick KennedySealy RealtyDrew KyleKyle Office SolutionsDara LonggrearTuscaloosa County Industrial Development AuthorityBill LunsfordBill Lunsford Construction, Inc.Mayor Walt MaddoxCity of TuscaloosaBlake MadisonRosen Harwood, P.A.John MaloneiHeart Media TuscaloosaAmy MatersonChamber of Commerce of West AlabamaScott McClanahanThe WHMZ Group at Morgan StanleyDean McClureTTL, Inc.Jill McDonaldChamber of Commerce of West AlabamaKim McMurrayWard Scott ArchitectureGary MinorTuscaloosa County Park and Recreation AuthorityBrendan MooreCity of Tuscaloosa - Office of Urban DevelopmentWilson MoorePritchett-Moore, Inc.Ruth O'Connor, The Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, Inc.; Jim Page, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Dr. Kay Palan, The University of Alabama - Culverhouse College of Commerce; David Pass, Miers Pass Philanthropy; Rodney Pelt, Mind Changers, Inc.; Dr. Carl Pinkert, The University of Alabama; Jordan Plaster, Plaster, Scarvey and Associates of Ameriprise; Jabaree Prewitt, WVUA 23; Ron Price, Bill Lunsford Construction, Inc.; Steven Rumsey, Rumsey Properties; Clay Ryan, The University of Alabama System; Ted Sexton, Circinus, LLC; Cooper Shattuck, Cooper Shattuck, LLC; Max Snyder, City of Northport; Al Spencer, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Don Staley, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports; Scott Stephens, City of Northport; Sontonia Stephens, Community Service Programs of West Alabama; Rob Steward, Alabama Power Company; Mark Sullivan, The Bank of Tuscaloosa; Dr. Rick Swatloski, The University of Alabama - Office of Technology Transfer; Tina Turley, Theatre Tuscaloosa; R.B. Walker, The University of Alabama; Phillip Weaver, Weaver Rentals, LLC; Dr. Theresa Welbourne, The University of Alabama - Culverhouse College of Commerce; Bryan Winter, Winter McFarland, LLC; Sandra Wolfe, The Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, Inc.; Bill Wright, Royal Fine Cleaners.

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Presenting Sponsor for the 2017 Benchmarking Trip:

The University of Alabama

Gold Sponsors:

Bryant Bank
Miers Pass Philanthropy
TTL, inc.
Winter McFarland Attorneys & Counselors at Law

Silver Sponsor:


Bronze Sponsors:

Ameriprise Financial: Plaster, Scarvey and Associates
D.T. & Freight Co., Inc.
Southland Benefit Solutions