We can all agree the past 12 months Decatur-Morgan County has seen more energy than in recent years. There are many reasons for this: among them, the soon-to-arrive Mazda-Toyota facility in Limestone County just a few miles from downtown; renewed movement of residential development in our city; a transformative city school system superintendent who is making changes in the district that will impact the next generation of graduates coming from the River City; an arts scene that continues to grow and attract creativity. There is a buzz about Decatur we’ve not heard in a long time.
What I find in common about all the different reasons for this energy is that it’s coming not from people acting alone. Instead, groups – businesses, schools, industries, governments, chambers, non-profits – recognize a greater impact is possible if we work together. That strategy has been part of this chamber's DNA since its founding in the 1930s.
Examples are everywhere. The Alabama Center for the Arts in downtown Decatur is a partnership between Athens State University and Calhoun Community College. When the Cook Museum of Natural Science launches, it will be a part of a regional tourism partnership with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and The Shoals to tell the story of the applied sciences in Huntsville, the natural sciences in Decatur and our cultural and musical history in Muscle Shoals, Florence and Tuscumbia. One of this Chamber’s most active outreach activities is Partners in Education, which pairs up local businesses and schools across Morgan County to provide tutoring, mentoring, fundraising and volunteer opportunities to support our young people.
The Community Image, Partnerships and Development Task Team – which I’m honored to lead – is part of the Chamber’s five-year strategy “The Partnership.” The team will build on these and other examples of collaboration, and expand partnerships throughout the entire region with the goal of developing a common message that will promote our great assets and communicate a positive image.
A great example of this is currently in the works. The City of Decatur, with the guidance of an advisory committee made up of municipal and non-profit representatives, has retained national advertising and branding agency Big Communications of Birmingham to launch a rebranding initiative for Decatur. Their experience with clients like Amazon, Valvoline, Mercedes-Benz, as well as statewide campaigns like Go Build Alabama, “Made in Alabama,” and Gulf Coast Seafood, will bring unparalleled creativity and imagination to how we tell our city’s wonderful story.
We need to capitalize on the many positive developments happening in our downtown like the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts and the Cook Museum, new restaurants and nightlife attractions, as well as our assets around the county like the Tennessee River and the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge that will soon undergo a $5 million facilities upgrade. These and other topics were outputs of the One Decatur comprehensive plan, which this task team will continue to implement with the City of Decatur.
Regionally, the Chamber and the team will continue to stay active in Launch 2035 – a three-county partnership rethinking our region’s economy in the areas of entrepreneurship, land use and workforce training. Groups like Launch 2035 and collaboration between chambers of commerce give Decatur-Morgan County a stronger voice when advocating in Montgomery or Washington DC for issues like infrastructure, education, and space and defense industry recruitment. When we work together, we succeed.
There is an African proverb that says “if you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run together.” As a community, we are running far… and we can run farther. A combination of technology, ease of travel and the changing ways of doing business in the 21st century have made our world smaller.
We need to continue taking advantage of that and seek new ways to forge relationships to improve the quality of life for Decatur-Morgan County and our region. We live in an amazing place. Events for families, recreational opportunities, faith groups involved in community development, a high rate of entrepreneurship and more go towards measuring the health of a community. Our heartbeat is very strong.
All of that that will help us better tell our story, and you can be a part of what’s next.
George Kitchens is the general manager of Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corporation, and task team leader for The Partnership’s Community Image, Partnerships and Development initiative. This post is the last of a four-part series telling the story of The Partnership and how it will change the landscape of our business community. To learn more about The Partnership and how to get involved, please click here.