Montgomery Business Journal

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January 2015
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts

The new chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has no plans to reinvent the wheel.

W. Russell Tyner, president and CEO of Baptist Health, has a simple priority for 2015 – “continue the good work already being done. It’s difficult to have a one-year agenda that rotates with chairmen every year, particularly when you have a rich history of 142 years.”

The new Chamber chairman has what he calls “areas of focus.” He wants to make sure that the Chamber’s Corporate Development staff, which he called “a world-class crowd” have the “resources and assets they need to continue that work.” He wants to make sure the Chamber Convention & Visitor Bureau, which “has done an incredible job,” receives the support it needs.

Workforce development is another area of focus, where the partnerships “are paying dividends,” Tyner said, citing Montgomery Public Schools, Alabama Community College System, Alabama Industrial Development Training, Alabama Department of Education, Chamber as well as other organizations. The creation of the Montgomery Regional Workforce Training Center was announced last fall.

Protecting and growing the missions at Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex is another area of focus for Tyner. “Ours is a military town and we’re blessed with that,” he said. “What we have to do is discern what the level of opportunity is and partnership with the missions.” He said the greatest opportunity over the next 10 years is developing a cyber security center at Gunter and “the spinoff of civilian businesses that locate there. That is economic development on a different scale.”

He would like to see more emphasis placed on small business and entrepreneurs. “We have a significant amount of entrepreneurs who are key players in our community, but not necessarily recognized as such,” Tyner said. “Entrepreneurship is one of those things that is a lost art. It’s something that we need to encourage and that we need to embrace at the Chamber and cultivate. Small business and those entrepreneurs out there who are taking risks are an opportunity to grow the economic engine in the community.”

As a member of the Chamber’s Executive Committee, Tyner has a better understanding about Montgomery. “There is so much about the community that you don’t have the opportunity to learn unless you do participate at the table,” Tyner said. “I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude and the importance of Maxwell and Gunter,” he said. “I don’t think I fully appreciated the level of opportunity in the postsecondary area.” He talked about opportunities of taking workforce development “into the elementary level … in a process that is very different than what I anticipated. And there is so much opportunity there. We just don’t articulate that as well as we should or advertise as much as we should.”

When asked what it will take to move Montgomery to the proverbial next level, Tyner said there are two pieces. “One of those is attracting and expanding industry, making sure that you have the jobs and the infrastructure to support growth; and the partnerships necessary to support growth in an economic development sense.”

The other piece, which he said is probably most important is attracting and retaining young professionals. “The millennials that are out there are attracted to certain things that you as a community can not only put in place, but advertise and become a place that people want to cast their futures. It’s very different. You have to be innovative and you have to be focused. Creating opportunities for young people – keeping our brain power here – is incredibly important.”

There will be 25 students this year attending the Montgomery Regional Campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine at Baptist Medical Center South. Nearly one-third of those students are from the area. “That’s how you can reverse the brain drain – creating opportunities for them here that exist in other places and making it equal or better,” Tyner said.

A vibrant downtown is critical to attracting and retaining young professionals and Montgomery has come a long way in a short time. “Ten years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that Montgomery would have a center for urban living,” Tyner said. He said that planning, leadership and partnerships “created a vibrant city center for not only urban living, but tourism as well. That’s pretty impressive and those are the things we have to build on.”

A key indicator of a successful year as Chamber chairman of the Board of Directors is “bringing new people and young people to the table,” Tyner said. He also hopes to have success in his areas of focus.

Tyner said it is “quite an honor and privilege” to be Chamber chairman. “If you look at the roster of past chairmen, there are some really incredible and capable people. It’s good company to be in and some hard legacies to live up to. It’s a challenge – it will be fun.”

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