Chamber Takes 90+ to Lexington for Annual Benchmarking Trip

Delegation includes business leaders, elected officials

More than 90 businessmen and women, elected officials, and community leaders traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, June 15 for the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama's annual Benchmarking Trip.

Chosen for its nationally-recognized economic growth, successful public-private partnerships, cultural health, and growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, Lexington features an urban county form of government, ranks 10th among U.S. cities in college education rate, and is home to a fellow SEC school, the University of Kentucky. The delegation felt Lexington was the perfect delegation for the group's second benchmarking trip.

"New relationships were created, existing relationships were strengthened, and countless one-on-one conversations were had that will pay serious dividends going forward," said Chamber President and CEO Jim Page.

The event kicked off Sunday evening with a reception at Creaux, a New Orleans-inspired cocktail bar in downtown Lexington. During the reception, Bob Quick, President and CEO of Commerce Lexington, gave attendees a "big picture" overview of Lexington; sharing both the history of the city and plans for the future.

Day Two began at the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center. A once thriving venue that hosted jazz, soul and R&B legends, the Lyric was closed for 50 years until renovated and reopened in 2010. At the Lyric, Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington-Fayette County highlighted elements of the city's success, placing particular emphasis on the educational institutions in the area, and noting that nearly 40 percent of Lexington's population possesses a college degree. "Higher education has been a big deal for us," he said.

In discussing the 21st century knowledge economy, Gray noted university cities such as Lexington and, perhaps, Tuscaloosa, develop attributes perfect for that economy, including high rates of education and entrepreneurship, innovation, a focus on arts and culture with a large nonprofit sector. Gray said it was also important to have low crime, unemployment and a low cost of living.

Bill Lear, Chairman Emeritus of Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC; Immediate Past Chair of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; Past Chair of Commerce Lexington and a Representative in the Kentucky General Assembly from 1985 to 1994, explained how Lexington had evolved over the years, and how their structure of government had come about. He discussed the pros and cons of a merged government.

A panel discussion tackled Lexington's "one-stop" economic development, and featured Kevin Atkins, Chief Development Officer for Lexington-Fayette County; Gina Greathouse, Executive Vice President Economic Development for Commerce Lexington; and Eric Hartman, Director of the Lexington Office of the Kentucky Innovation Network.

During a luncheon at the Mane on Main, Tom Harris, Vice President for University Relations, the University of Kentucky, discussed UK's role in economic development in the area, as well as detailing partnerships within the Lexington community.

Afternoon breakout sessions offered a range of critical topics for attendees. During the arts and culture breakout session, LexArts President and CEO Nan Plummer delivered an overview of how the arts community is structured, funded and operated, promoting Lexington’s cultural health. VisitLEX President Mary Quinn Ramer gave tourism breakout attendees a deep dive into Lexington’s experience economy. Jim Duncan with the Lexington-Fayette County Division of Planning gave group members an overview of planning practices, community development tools and tax structure, while Betsy Dexter with Commerce Lexington shared information on how business-education partnerships help to meet the area’s workforce development needs. Attendees interested in entrepreneurship and innovation gathered at the downtown incubator, Awesome Inc, for an overview of how the entrepreneurial ecosystem is promoted and sustained.

Following the breakout sessions, attendees felt their positive attitudes toward West Alabama were strengthened, while also gaining ideas to move forward. 

“There will be lots of follow up from the conversations we had,” said Ron Price, Vice President of Construction and Development, Bill Lunsford Construction.

At the close of Day Two, attendees enjoyed networking, dinner and a private tour at Buffalo Trace Distillery.

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Day three of the event concentrated on West Alabama’s need for event space, as attendees toured the Lexington Center and Rupp Arena. Bill Owen, President and CEO of the Lexington Center Corporation, gave a detailed overview of the structure, funding and operations of the public-private partnership that is critical to downtown Lexington’s development and the area’s experience economy.

Greg Byrne, Athletic Director, the University of Alabama, told attendees he had been able to view the athletic program with a fresh set of eyes, and provided an update on renovations to Coleman Coliseum.

 During a post-event wrap-up session, benchmarking trip attendees discussed how lessons learned in Lexington can be applied in West Alabama, and discussed the need for successful public-private partnerships and a commitment to long-range planning and collaborative efforts.

At the close of the trip, Blake Madison of Rosen Harwood, PA, who serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Chamber, announced the destination for the 2019 Benchmarking Trip will be Chattanooga, Tennessee, where topics will include downtown redevelopment and riverfront development.

Participants for the 2018 Lexington Benchmarking Trip:

Chase Adcox, CBA Properties; Senator Gerald Allen, Alabama State Senate; Tanner Ashcraft, Hamner Real Estate, LLC; Dr. Bill Ashley, Shelton State Community College; Ben Bickerstaff, The University of Alabama; Dan Blakely, Inventure Renewables, Inc.; Janee Bonner; Bobby Bragg, JamisonMoneyFarmer PC; Alvin Brewer, City of Tuscaloosa; Audrey Buck, City of Tuscaloosa; Bobby Buffaloe, Home Instead Senior Care; Stephaine Buffaloe, Home Instead Senior Care; Greg Byrne, The University of Alabama; Paul Connolly, TCC Acquisition Partners, LLC; Steve Diorio, WVUA23; David DuBose, Townsquare Media Tuscaloosa; Amy Echols, Kentuck; Mike Ellis, Ellis Architects; Matthew Fajack, The University of Alabama; Erica Grant, Tuscaloosa City Board of Education; Alicia Gregory, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Laura Gregory, Laura K. Gregory, PC; Chris Gunter, Buffalo Rock Company/Pepsi-Cola; Angela Hamiter, JamisonMoneyFarmer PC; Drew Hamiter; Patrick Hamner, Bryant Bank, Tuscaloosa City Board of Education; Jim Harrison, III, Harrison Galleries; Kaye Harrison; Bruce Higginbotham, City of Northport; Cal Holt, Knight Sign Industries; Dana Holt; Justin Holt, Southern Ale House, Dotson's; Councilor Raeven Howard, City of Tuscaloosa; Bobby Ingram, JamisonMoneyFarmer PC; Molly Ingram, DCH Health System; Katy Beth Jackson, City of Tuscaloosa; Carla Jones; Donny Jones, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Steve Kellough, Raymond James; Drew Kyle, Kyle Office Solutions; Robert Lanoux, Ward Scott Architecture; James Leitner, The Radiology Clinic; Councilman Jay Logan, City of Northport; Bill Lunsford, Bill Lunsford Construction, Inc.; Cathy Lunsford; Blake Madison, Rosen Harwood, P.A.; Susan Madison; John Malone, iHeartMedia; Jenny Mann, Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra; Amy Materson, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Barry May, Alabama Community College System; Jill McDonald, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Councilor Sonya McKinstry, City of Tuscaloosa; Kimberly McMurray, Behavioral Health Facility Consulting, Inc.; Gary Minor, Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority; Dr. Jacqueline Morgan, The University of Alabama; John Murdock, Greek Resource Services, Inc., Dr. Charles Nash, The University of Alabama System; Hattie Nash; Councilor Phyllis Odom, City of Tuscaloosa; Jim Page, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; David Pass, Miers Pass Philanthropy; Rodney Pelt, Mind Changers, Inc.; Jordan Plaster, Plaster, Scarvey and Associates of Ameriprise; Lesley Powell; Tripp Powell, Kuykendall & Powell Oil Co.; Jabaree Prewitt, WVUA23; Deborah Price; Ron Price, Bill Lunsford Construction, Inc.; Dr. Samory Pruitt, The University of Alabama; Cherry Pugh; Councilor Eddie Pugh, City of Tuscaloosa; Sandra Ray, The Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, Inc.; Josh Rivers, The University of Alabama; Rob Robertson; Robert Shaw; Hamner Real Estate; Justice Smyth, Alabama Transportation Institute; Al Spencer, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Leanne Spencer; Don Staley, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports; Carly Standridge, City of Tuscaloosa; Rob Steward, Alabama Power Company; Mark Sullivan, Synovus; Mary Mike Sullivan; Dr. Rick Swatloski, The University of Alabama; Brandy Walker; Jason Walker, TTL, Inc.; Glenda Webb, City of Tuscaloosa; Hays Webb, Tuscaloosa County District Attorney's Office; Bryan Winter, Winter McFarland, LLC; Sandra Wolfe, The Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, Inc.

Presenting Sponsor:

Platinum Sponsor:

TTL, Inc.

Gold Sponsors:

Plaster, Scarvey and Associates
Bryant Bank
Miers Pass Philanthropy
TekLinks
Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports
Winter McFarland, Attorneys & Counselors at Law

Bronze Sponsor:

Southland Benefit Solutions