A year ago, I heard John Joseph in a speech make the observation that Decatur-Morgan County may be in the middle of a rebirth and we don’t even realize it. In a recent conversation, John agreed that today we can say for sure that we are in the middle of the emergence of our area as one of the South’s most vibrant communities.
Following on the heels of new high schools in Hartselle and Priceville, in the next year we will open two new high schools in Decatur. The Austin Black Bears will turn on the Friday Night Lights for the first time in their own stadium. Decatur High students will walk to class across a beautiful skywalk with a view of Delano Park and the famous Red Raider water tower in the background. It’s a striking symbol of the old meeting the new. And it is not just facilities. Decatur is buzzing about our dynamic new superintendent, Dr. Michael Douglas, and his student-focused plans for improving our system.
Soon, the Cook Museum of Natural Science will bring a quarter of a million visitors to our downtown as one of the south’s newest destination attractions.
Students will continue paint, sculpt and perform in our $20 million Alabama Center for the Arts in downtown. It’s one of the best new art facility in the nation.
Many of you were involved in crafting One Decatur, a comprehensive development plan for our community that provides us a guide book for specific actions we can take to improve and grow.
Recently the icing was put on the cake by the announcement of the new Toyota–Mazda assembly facility that will bring 4,000 new jobs to the area with more to come from suppliers and support industries.
Our elected officials are engaged, businesses are excited and citizens are optimistic. We are all encouraged but know we still have challenges.
What we have is a once in a century opportunity to address these challenges and we have got to get it right.
So what are we going to do?
The strength of your chamber has been in its ability to get citizens, business, and government in the same room and on the same page to accomplish common goals. After months of talking to our citizens we have decided now is the time to take bold steps and to make a hard charge at the four areas that everyone agrees are gamechagers.
Today, I am excited to announce “The Partnership,” a plan for empowering Decatur-Morgan County to focus on education, talent development, residential growth and regional cooperation. To lead this effort – along with the chamber board and staff – we have recruited four local business and industry rock stars.
Decatur Morgan Hospital President Nat Richardson has rebuilt and run a hospital at the same time. He will lead our education efforts coming along side our superintendents and other stakeholders to work to improve test scores, drop-out rates and other key education initiatives.
In 3M Plant Manager Michelle Howell, we have a dynamic high energy leader that will work with business, educators, and government to train a dynamic talent pool that is work ready as part of our talent and workforce development initiative.
Jack Fite of Fite Building is a Decatur success story who has become known through the state. He will lead the efforts to bring new rooftops – both residential and commercial – to Decatur.
Joe Wheeler Electric President George Kitchens is gifted in working with multiple stakeholders and will take this to a new level working with our neighboring communities and business on taking full advantage of the opportunities Toyota-Mazda will bring.
This is a great plan with great leaders, but what will make it successful is who we are together. The true heart of Decatur and Morgan County is not something that is a narrative but something you have to experience.
On Saturday of Mothers Day weekend, go watch the Dragon Boats race on the Tennessee River at Point Mallard.
A few weeks later on Memorial Day weekend, go back and watch the balloon races.
If you watch closely you realize both these events are about more than boat and balloon races.
Christmas parades, Depot Days, Third Friday, Spirit of America, Carnegie Carnival, River Clay, Riverfest. The list goes on and on.
All these examples show what sets our area apart and drives us all to live in Decatur and Morgan County. We “get” community. We know how to live, work, and play. Most importantly as our Citizen of the Year Murphy Brown has demonstrated to us, we know how to take care of each other. We understand that we are better together.
We have the opportunity as never before. We know the issues, we have the leadership and we have a plan. We still need you. If you are here today you will probably be hearing from one of us. We will be twisting arms and calling in favors. We need your network, we need your influence, we need your investment, and most importantly we need your energy. Take our call.
Join The Partnership. Help us empower Decatur and Morgan County. Today, tomorrow and together.
Tim Lovelace is the city president of Renasant Bank of Decatur, and the 2018-2019 chairman of the Chamber's Board of Directors. This post is from his address during the Chamber’s 87th Annual Meeting on April 10, 2018.