Chamber leaders share takeaways from Tuscaloosa leadership visit.
After three packed days full of learning from Tuscaloosa’s city, chamber, and university leaders, the delegation held a final session to wrap things up and share their experiences and takeaways from the trip. Here is a recap of what was shared.
“What can we do to say ‘yes’ more? We say no too often,” says Jay Lindner, president of Lindner Properties. “We need to think outside the box to solve our problems.”
Kevin Czaicki, account director at CenturyLink, shares, “It feels like there’s no sense of entitlement (among the Tuscaloosa team). Instead there’s ownership and a sense of community. We often build silo’s instead.”
“I’ve experienced leadership on this trip,” says Susan Hart, vice president of Huebert Builders. “They made hard decisions, but for the right reasons. There was also a clear vision.”
Randy Gooch, chief operations officer for Columbia Public Schools, added, “They have not let obstacles stop the end result of what they want. They’ve found workarounds.”
“There was a collaboration, a coming together,” shares Lawrence Simonson of the PedNet Coalition. “We also saw the Chamber lead and be the glue.”
Mike Grellner of Plaza Commercial Realty was moved by a story Tuscaloosa’s Mayor, Jim Page, told about having to communicate some of the tough changes they were making to his own father. “What we do cannot be viewed from what we want today,” Grellner says. “It has to be about one, two, even three generations from now.”
“Every person we heard from was a vision caster and message bearer,” Erica Pefferman, president of the Business Times Company, notices. “They had a story to tell. We struggle to have a comprehensive communication plan. We need a succinct plan.”
“They have congealed around some really big ideas,” someone else added. ”Then they’ve found ways to fund them.”
Columbia College Provost Piyusha Singh agreed. “There was a real multiplier effect in their collaboration.”
Councilman Mike Trapp suggests that we need an overarching, community-based strategy for workforce development and Les Borgmeyer believes we need to be flexible on funding mechanisms to make change happen.
Dianne Lynch, President of Stephens College, shares that we often spend a lot of time right on top of problems instead of stepping back to take a look. She reminded the group that the Elevate Tuscaloosa initiative had something in to for everyone and their children.
“The mayor has a story to tell, and he means it. And it’s based on data,” Lynch says. “We don’t have that vision. You end up where you’re headed. We don’t have a common narrative. I think the tax payers would say ‘yes’ to that, but we haven’t given it to them.”
School Board Member Della Streaty-Wilhoit is encouraged. “We have the core group here to do it. We love our city and we can change it.”
Marshall Stewart, Vice Chancellor of MU, adds “You have to know who you are and who you aspire to be. We need a clarification of vision.”
Amy Schneider asked everyone to remember the One Voice idea from the Knoxville trip that the group tried to rally around in years past. “No one was willing to give up their voice to have one voice. But we didn’t know our end game. If we knew our end game, and could come around the table again, we could develop one voice.”
In response, MU’s Bill Turpin asks, “Who is our top voice? Theirs is the mayor.”
Lynch adds, “Urgency drives outcomes. It didn’t take them that long, less than two years, to get results.”
Chamber Chair Matt Garrett encourages the group to focus on the big idea – what’s the one thing we are going to commit to?
Gooch and Grellner agree that the answer is WOW, short for Worlds of Work, a two-day career expo put on to educate students on what jobs are available in the area and what form of education they would need to move down that career path.
While no decisions were made, the group had consensus around one thing. “This is one of the best trip’s yet. Tuscaloosa hit it out of the park for us,” Lindner says.