PHOTOS: 2019 Chattanooga Benchmarking Trip

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 Chattanooga Climbs, 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

Kimberly Adams, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Councilor Cynthia Almond, City of Tuscaloosa; Chief Steve Anderson, Tuscaloosa Police Department; Ben Bickerstaff, The University of Alabama; Thomas Bobitt, City of Tuscaloosa; Bobby Bragg, JamisonMoneyFarmer PC; Charlye Brandon, Allstate Coley Agency; Alvin Brewer, City of Tuscaloosa; Audrey Buck, City of Tuscaloosa; Bobby Buffaloe, Home Instead Senior Care of Tuscaloosa; Stephaine Buffaloe, Home Instead Senior Care of Tuscaloosa; Bryan Chandler, Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority; Mark Hughes Cobb, The Tuscaloosa News; Michele Coley, Allstate Coley Agency; Paul Connolly, TCC Acquisition Partners, LLC; Ashley Crites, City of Tuscaloosa; Wade Dailey, Wells Fargo Bank; Steven Deal, Pritchett-Moore, Inc., David DuBose, Townsquare Media; Mason Dyess, Harry's Bar; Amy Echols, Kentuck; Mike Echols, Echols, Taylor & Associates; Claude Edwards, Bryant Bank; Mike Ellis, Ellis Architects, Inc.; Matt Fajack, The University of Alabama; Jake French, Harry's Bar; Barkley Garrett, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Tracy Gatewood, The Locker Room; Jheovanny Gomez, Jalapenos Mexican Grill; Heyward Gould, FNB of Central Alabama; Chris Grace, Barge Design Solutions; Gina Grace; Erica Grant, Tuscaloosa City Board of Education; Heather Gray, City of Tuscaloosa; Chris Gunter, Buffalo Rock Company / Pepsi-Cola; Jim Harrison, III, Harrison Galleries, LLC; Bruce Higginbotham, City of Northport; Scott Holmes, City of Tuscaloosa; Cal Holt, Knight Sign Industries; Justin Holt, Southern Ale House / Dotson's; Jonathan Hood, FNB of Central Alabama; Katy Beth Jackson, City of Tuscaloosa; Carl Jamison, JamisonMoneyFarmer PC; Julie Jamison; London Jenkins, City of Tuscaloosa; Donny Jones, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Steve Kellough, Raymond James; Drew Kyle, Kyle Office Solutions; Robert Lanoux, Ward Scott Architecture; James Leitner, Simplified Medical Management, LLC; Councilman Jay Logan, City of Northport; Mayor Walt Maddox, City of Tuscaloosa; Blake Madison, Rosen Harwood, P.A.; Susan Madison, A Bean Counter, LLC; Amy Materson, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Gina McClanahan; Scott McClanahan, The WHMZ Group at Morgan Stanley; Anita McClure; Dean McClure, TTL, Inc.; Jill McDonald, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Bruce McMurray; Kimberly McMurray, Behavioral Health Facility Consulting, LLC; Jarrod Milligan, City of Tuscaloosa; Gary Minor, Tuscaloosa County Park & Recreation Authority; Brendan Moore, City of Tuscaloosa; Jason Moore, Shelton State Community College; Wilson Moore, Pritchett-Moore, Inc.; Dr. Jacqueline Morgan, The University of Alabama; Robert Morgan, Rosen Harwood, P.A.; Jordan Morris, Ward Scott Architecture; Councilor Phyllis Odom, City of Tuscaloosa; John Owens, Owens & Millsaps, LLP; Jim Page, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama; Tim Parker, III, Parker Towing Company; Sam Parks, SmartBank; David Pass, Miers Pass Philanthropy; Rodney Pelt, Mind Changers, Inc.; Jordan Plaster, Plaster, Scarvey and Shumaker of Ameriprise Financial; Representative Bill Poole, Watson & Poole, LLC, Alabama House of Representatives; Ellen Potts, Habitat for Humanity of Tuscaloosa; Jabaree Prewitt, WVUA23; Deborah Price; Ron Price; Bill Lunsford Construction, Inc.; Councilor Eddie Pugh, City of Tuscaloosa; Cherry Pugh; Jasmine Rainey, Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports; David Rains, Randall-Reilly, LLC; Matt Ray, Eatmybeats, Inc.,; Nikki Ray, Eatmybeats, Inc.; Bobby Rice, The Tuscaloosa News; Judge Rob Robertson, Tuscaloosa County Commission; Richard Rush, City of Tuscaloosa; Cooper Shattuck, Cooper Shattuck, LLC; Robert Shaw, Hamner Real Estate, Inc.; Justice Smyth, Alabama Transportation Institute; Susan Snowden, City of Tuscaloosa; Al Spencer; Leanne Spencer; Don Staley, Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports; Ryan Stallings, Alabama ONE; Steve Steele, BBVA; Sontonia Stephens, Community Service Programs of West Alabama, Inc.; Rob Steward, Alabama Power Company; Mark Sullivan, Synovus; Mary Mike Sullivan; Dr. Rick Swatloski, The University of Alabama; Charlie Taylor, The University of Alabama System; Eric Thompson, City of Tuscaloosa; Terry Thomas, City of Tuscaloosa; Mitt Tubbs, Tuscaloosa Police Department; Tera Tubbs, City of Tuscaloosa; Tina Turley, Theatre Tuscaloosa; Bill Walker, Regions Bank; Jason Walker, TTL, Inc.; Brandy Walker; Freddie Washington, Community Service Programs of West Alabama, Inc.; Glenda Webb, City of Tuscaloosa; Hays Webb, Tuscaloosa County District Attorney's Office; Ben Welch, SmartBank; Dakota Whitten, City of Tuscaloosa; Kendra Williams, Tuscaloosa City Board of Education; Bryan Winter, Winter McFarland, LLC; Elizabeth Winter, Regions Bank; Sandra Wolfe, The Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, Inc.; Bill Wright, FRSTeam; Tammy Wyatt, City of Tuscaloosa.

Thank you to our sponsors

Presenting Sponsor

The University of Alabama

Platinum and Networking Reception Sponsor

SmartBank

Gold Sponsors

Bryant Bank
Buffalo Rock
Plaster, Scarvey & Shumaker of Ameriprise Financial
Raymond James
TTL, Inc.
Tuscaloosa Tourism & Sports
Ward Scott Architecture
Wells Fargo

Silver Sponsors

FRSTeam
Tuscaloosa County

Transportation Sponsor

Southland Benefit Solutions

Welcome Reception Sponsor

Miers Pass Philanthropy