Montgomery Business Journal

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Chairman of The Board Leslie Sanders Reveals Goals for 2014

January 2014

By David Zaslawsky

Photography by Robert Fouts

As a member of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Committee, Leslie Sanders has learned a lot about the inner workings of the organization.

She said the Chamber is not afraid to tackle the big issues facing the community, but also serves as “the common ground,” where a full range of opinions not only can be expressed, but are encouraged.

That is just one of the areas – the Chamber as a facilitator – that Sanders plans to focus on this year as the organization’s new chairman. Sanders said there are various groups with ideas about downtown/riverfront development, including the concept of a digital billboard to let people know what is going on.

“Anytime that we can inspire and facilitate the doers of good, then that puts the Chamber in a lead position to keep facilitating and moving things down the road,” said Sanders, who is vice president of Alabama Power’s Southern Division. “With the Chamber being the facilitator of good, it’s a way to communicate and link without owning and organizing. I think that to become a really great, vibrant city we need to keep all those plates spinning where they are and bring them together. If I had to have one statement that summarized everything:

“I think the Chamber is a facilitator of good in Montgomery. We are a fertile ground for great ideas and we will continue to be a leader to implement these strategies and opportunities.”

As a facilitator, the Chamber will empower others to share knowledge, wisdom and experience, according to Sanders. “The Chamber is the perfect place to have those groups come together and bless them to move on. One good idea begets another good idea.”

She pointed out that trying to formalize things will sometimes kill spontaneity and said that she wants empowerment, guidance, collaboration and fun. “Everybody can have a part of it and it’s also an excellent way to grow future leaders of the Chamber,” Sanders said. “We are a feeder system for the leaders of the future.”

Another area of focus for 2014 is protecting the missions at Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex in the wake of possible military consolidation in 2015 or 2016 through a Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) and additional defense cuts through sequestration.

“Sometimes we don’t realize we are a military town,” Sanders said. “We are a military town and we are grateful for that. They are our friends and neighbors and they are an integral part of the fabric of Montgomery.”

There is also a huge economic impact at stake – about $2.6 billion a year and if missions are expanded, that economic impact will increase as well. One project to enhance the region’s relationship with military is building Freedom Park at Maxwell, where airmen and their families can play and grill and have picnics.

“I think that Freedom Park, which is a wonderful collaborative effort of not just Montgomery, but the River Region, to come together so that we are known as the best hometown in the Air Force, which is huge,” Sanders said. “It resonates with the Pentagon when they are looking at missions and bases that might need to be altered. To be known as the best hometown in the Air Force is a good thing.”

Maxwell/Gunter has been designated as a P4 initiative, which means public-private and public-public relationships, and “that opens up all kinds of partnership opportunities that the city and Chamber have already seized upon,” Sanders said. “Those are initiatives where the Chamber has and will continue to take a leadership role.”

Another priority “is to continue to become a greater champion of education. There is no way not to focus on education, and there are great opportunities.”

One of those opportunities is the Montgomery Technical Education Center (MTEC).

“There is every reason why the capital of the State of Alabama should have the premier career technical education school with a dual enrollment that actually prepares our students to either get a good job upon graduation or to have the skill set foundation to go to a two-year or four-year school and get the other necessary training they need,” Sanders said.

“Business has a need for qualified workers in the labor force. We have a great opportunity to take MTEC to a whole new level. We are blessed to have a lot of associations and businesses that want to help; want to contribute; want to make sure that we hit the mark.”

She said it is time to no longer just use buzz words such as work force development and actually do something. “It’s time that we graduate (students) and train them and make it an honor to graduate from MTEC. It is needed; it’s good; and it will serve this region and state well. It’s exciting because we have resources we didn’t have before. We have the attention on this. We’ve admitted we need it.”

Another education-related goal is “interweaving organizations such as the YMCA” into after-school programs. “The YMCA is a very important group that has been overlooked and I’m glad that there is a desire (on their part) to come to the table,” Sanders said. She noted that the best setting for that is the Chamber – once again being a facilitator.

Increasing flight service and improving customer service at Montgomery Regional Airport is a goal for 2014. “You have to go underneath the flight schedule to really have an ambassador for Montgomery,” Sanders said. And now there will be such a person, who will be a champion for Montgomery.

“Just like we’re worried that the Pentagon doesn’t know everything might be happening to keep you off a list – we’re not convinced that the airline industry doesn’t know good things about Montgomery to make better-informed decisions on things they need to do here that would result in expanded flights, better service, more monetary resources,” Sanders said.

“Sometimes complaining afterward doesn’t get you anywhere, but going to the source and talking to corporate at Delta; talking to corporate at U.S. Air – that starts to make a difference.

“We want to work with the Airport Authority to make a difference that not only our citizens will notice and our business leaders, but that prospects will notice. Kudos to the Airport Authority for realizing that this is a challenge that can be accomplished in a very reasonable amount of time.

This year marks the halfway point in the Chamber’s five-year Imagine A Greater Montgomery II strategy and Sanders said now is the time “to look and see where we are as a city; look at what we learned. We’ve had a lot of initiatives that we have information on. We’ve also had the opportunity to compare ourselves to some initiatives in other cities …”


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