Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
Since October of last year I’ve been afforded the exciting opportunity to consult with the Augusta Economic Development Authority to help with our local business recruitment efforts, something I’m extremely passionate about. During my time serving as mayor of our city, I always saw myself as our lead salesman and was blessed to have worked with our economic development team to help bring companies like Automatic Data Processing, T-Mobile, Starbucks, Rural Sourcing Incorporated, and Unisys here to Augusta. It's always been my firm belief that creating jobs and opportunity at all levels in the places we call home is simply a great equalizer which can cut across all political and socio-economic lines...if done correctly.
Last week our community once again hosted what most consider to be the world of golf’s greatest event in the Masters Tournament. Each year the Red Carpet Tour, hosted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and centered around the Masters, draws CEO’s from around the world for an in-depth look at our state’s thriving economic climate. At the local level the Augusta Metro Chamber partners with the State Chamber, Georgia Allies, local development authorities, and many private sector partners to host the Red Carpet Tour and Augusta Showcase. Since its inception in 1959, tour guests have created around 15,000 jobs in Georgia with an investment of more that $3.2 billion in new or expanded operations across the state.
As we played host to our guests last week it was a pleasure to have conversations with many individuals who had never been to Augusta as well as with a number who were visiting the State of Georgia for the first time. One observation I heard repeatedly was how impressed the guests were by how nice everyone they met had been during their stay, from people working the tour to your average man or woman on the street. Admittedly, the Masters Tournament and the Red Carpet Tour put a tremendous amount of time and effort into providing a world class visitor experience. However, it resonated with me that there’s something we all might often take for granted in our economic development efforts throughout Georgia which adds another competitive advantage for our state, and that is simple southern hospitality.
I’ve often made the point that as elected officials, economic development professionals, business owners or local citizens, we all have a part to play in our local economic development efforts. Ultimately the visitor experience, whether its a new business looking to invest in our communities or a visitor who’s spending increases our local tourism revenues, is what matters. Unlike the guests hosted on the Red Carpet tour, in almost every situation most of us will never know that the person sitting next to us in a restaurant or standing at the store counter may be looking to invest millions of dollars and create hundreds of jobs in our communities. In the end, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. A decision maker having a first class visitor experience in your community can make the difference in landing or losing a major project. Customer service will always count and simple service with a smile by local citizens to any visitor to your community will always create a more business friendly environment.
By the same token, as these projects visit our communities, most elected officials are unaware of the potential investors and job creators being in town. While in office I often shared with my elected colleagues that local governments don’t operate in a vacuum. In a world where information is transferred in the blink of an eye, bad press is never a good thing to be a part of when it comes to our community economic development efforts. Local government controversies, particularly those that can easily be avoided, are on display for anyone to see in the Information Age. Elected officials keeping in mind that the world is watching is always a good idea.
In the end, our economic development efforts on behalf of the cities and communities we choose to call home are a true team effort with everyone having a role to play. The Red Carpet Tour wouldn’t be possible were it not for all of the partners, volunteers and hosts who spend a week working tirelessly on the state’s behalf to help grow Georgia’s economy.
Augusta is truly blessed to host the Masters Tournament every April, but every city has their time to shine and to showcase their wares to potential investors. Whether its the International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Octoberfest in Helen, or the Savannah Music Festival, every city has an event that can be leveraged for economic development while at the same time also instilling a sense of civic pride in citizens. Here’s wishing the best to the team efforts in cities across our great state as a rising tide undoubtedly lifts all boats!