Greenville 2017: Chamber Takes 70+ on Inaugural Benchmarking Trip Featured

02 Aug 2017 Amy Materson
Greenville 2017: Chamber Takes 70+ on Inaugural Benchmarking Trip The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama

More than 70 Chamber members and community leaders traveled to Greenville, South Carolina, July 23-25, for the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama's inaugural benchmarking trip.

Chosen for how Greenville has embraced smart growth, downtown redevelopment and a knowledge-based, entrepreneurial economy, participants heard from individuals directly responsible for Greenville's transformation, and were inspired to apply those successes in West Alabama.

"I think it was a great trip and I really enjoyed visiting Greenville," said Bruce Higginbotham, Northport City Engineer and Interim City Administrator. "It was very informative, and we learned a lot from them. I was especially interested in hearing how they transformed themselves through the years.

Higginbotham said Greenville’s transformation wasn’t an overnight process, but the city’s commitment created a great living environment for residents.

“In a lot of ways, Northport is in a similar position. The City has tremendous assets and is a growing community,” he said. “We can improve our community by highlighting these assets and moving forward in a planned, proactive way."  

Mayor Walt Maddox, Brendan Moore (City of Tuscaloosa, Office of Urban Development) and Bobby Bragg (JamisonMoneyFarmer PC) attended the 2017 Chamber Benchmarking Trip.

Speakers for the benchmarking trip included public officials, elected representatives and entrepreneurs from the area. All discussed the transformative atmosphere in the community. Greenville's once-dormant city center has now become a national model for downtown redevelopment. 

Those who attended the Benchmarking Trip said they got a great deal out of it, including Chris Gunter of Buffalo Rock/Pepsi-Cola, who said the trip generated a great deal of excitement.

“I think that we made a statement as a community as to how important it truly is to take the city to the next level,” Gunter said. “The mayor, the city of Tuscaloosa, and the city of Northport have done a fantastic job of laying out plans. But what we’ve learned from Greenville is, ‘How can we get on board with those plans as a community and how can we get on board as a private investor?’”

City of Northport Planning Director Scott Stephens said Greenville is a great case study of a plan put into action.

“It’s great to see how committed citizens and community leaders can work together to bring their vision for their city into reality,” Stephens said. “We saw examples of how the City of Greenville provided effective economic development, arts and tourism, parks and greenspace, and more, all to the benefit of their citizens.”

Prior to returning to Tuscaloosa, participants met to share their thoughts on the trip and discuss ways to apply lessons learned in Greenville to challenges in West Alabama. Attendees agreed takeaways should include Greenville’s intentional planning with respect to the use of their available funds. Mayor Walt Maddox said the City of Tuscaloosa should take advantage of low-hanging fruit, including cosmetic improvements such as signage, it should also look at the long-term process.

“The planning process works, but it takes time,” Maddox said. “We’re very good, but do we want to be great?”

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.