Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Adversity Builds Character

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

Helen Keller once said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” One doesn’t have to look too far to find news that is discouraging or sad. Events of daily living can be tragic in all walks of life. Consider recent headlines: Gulf Oil Spill, Teacher molestation trial, State Budget woes, etc. The daily adversity we all face does not discriminate. Each of us has struggles and adversity to some degree. If you don’t, count your blessings and prepare for the struggles that will come.

Some entities have a history of long term adversity: Job in the bible, Abraham Lincoln before becoming President and after, and even many sports teams. Consider the storied yet mediocre history of the New Orleans Saints. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina comes close to annihilating an entire city beyond repair, including the famed Superdome. Less than five years later, the Saints win the most coveted prize in American Sports – the Super Bowl.

If you read a little of the Saints history, Tom Benson, owner of the Saints, is more than just an NFL owner. He is a vested community leader in New Orleans. After Katrina, Mr. Benson and many others vowed that New Orleans would come back and he led the effort to do just that.

Did Katrina cause the Saints to win the Super Bowl after 25 years of competition? I would argue that Katrina put in motion the conditions and events that led to the Saints Super Bowl win. Keller said, “Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

The last three years have certainly been trying for our community, our industry, our region, and our nation. But the adversity that has faced us has also strengthened us – at least locally. I would argue that the Greater Dalton Community has weathered the storms valiantly, and we are poised to get back in the win column.

Last week Dalton was listed as the 172nd on Forbes’ Best Small Place for Businesses and Careers. The ranking of #172 was computed based on three other rankings: #43 for cost of doing business, #177 for projected job growth, and #179 for education attainment. On this same list, eight other small Georgia communities ranked higher than we did: Athens (#26), Gainesville (#47), Warner-Robbins (#59), Valdosta (#79), Brunswick (#102), Hinesville (#122), Macon (#141), and Rome (#144). Albany ranked #179 just below us.

The cynic would view these rankings disappointingly. The optimist sees light at the end of the tunnel. We are at the bottom of a sustained and deep recessionary cycle (projected job growth). Our educational attainment is also at a low historical level that can only go up over time as more and more enter the workplace with higher educational credentials. Due to the efforts of our local government leaders, the cost of doing business is already low and is forecasted to remain so. Said differently, our community is one of the top 180 in the country and in the top 10 in Georgia.

The adversity that has faced us over the last three years has created the energy, the focus, and the ambition to recreate ourselves. We are poised to not only succeed in the short term, but the long term as well. Just as businesses are coming out of a terrible business recession, the pent up demand for new manufacturing facilities and our ability to accommodate them will be a recipe for success.

I am confident that we will see our place on the Forbes list improve year after year as we continue to work together and succeed together. Many have fought the good fight during these tough times. Remember the slogan “weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”? We are the weebles and we have wobbled, but we did not fall down! I continue to be bullish on Greater Dalton!

Kickoff of Political Season

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

Although many candidates for political office have already announced their intentions and have been campaigning for months, the official kick-off of this year’s political season begins this week with qualifying. At least through Monday’s announcement, those that were expected to qualify did so early and a couple of new candidates threw their hat into the ring and will be challenging current office holders.

Many sitting elected officials hope for an unopposed election due to the time and financial burden running a campaign takes. The voting electorate wins, however, when campaigns are waged vigorously and issues are presented and debated. Running for a local elected office doesn’t have to be expensive. A local candidate can inexpensively campaign at hundreds of local community events and through door-to-door campaigning.

It is usually those seeking state-wide office or even a congressional seat that have to resort to more media based campaigning in order to get their message out to a large and geographically dispersed electorate. Outside of face-to-face campaigning, local media can be very effective in helping a candidate get the name recognition increased. But even those seeking an office that represents a large geographic area must campaign face-to-face as much as possible in order to gain the trust of the voters they seek to represent.

This year’s elections should be hotly debated and vigorously fought. At every level much is at stake and electing the absolute best possible candidate is paramount. For Congress, the ninth district race is shaping up to be a very interesting race. There are a handful of seemingly good candidates that represent both those from the political mainstream and a few first timers seeking their first try at political office.

The diverse background of those running will be interesting to watch as they compete for a shot in a runoff. The east vs. west dynamic will also be interesting to watch. At the end of the day, however, each of us want someone who will best represent the needs and interests of those from North Georgia and the best interests of our country at large.

The state-wide races also have the potential to be extremely interesting to watch. Thankfully there are also a number of good, qualified candidates seeking to represent Georgia in a variety of statewide offices. Given that an incumbent Governor is not in the race, the Governor’s race has attracted many candidates representing a diverse set of experiences and resumes in seeking to lead the largest state east of the Mississippi. And given the struggles facing incumbents, a strong argument can be made that both parties are in the mix.

Those seeking federal and state offices will also face another challenge this year that was not as pronounced in recent years. Those needing to use expensive media platforms to get their message heard will find that raising the financial resources will be harder to come by. Most financial disclosures released at this point in the cycle already indicate much lower levels of financial resources being raised. The large number of candidates running in each race has also spread a smaller pool of available dollars across many candidates.

And last but not least, the local races seem to be shaping up to be worth watching as well. Although a candidate running unopposed is still possible, many races may have more than two candidates seeking the same office. Offices that have more than two candidates really challenge the candidates to get their message out and to quickly differentiate one from the other.

Many argue that citizen dissatisfaction is high and thus voter apathy will be low. In other words, more voters are expected to vote / participate in the democratic process given their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives. It will be interesting to see if that activism is engaged at all levels or just in the federal and state races.

One of the strategic pillars of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce is leadership development. First class opportunities are available through the Leadership Dalton-Whitfield program and the Emerging Leaders Institute that enable new talent to become aware of community issues and allow for opportunities to work toward solutions that will be benefit all. It is a credit to these programs when one who has graduated from one or both of these leadership programs decides to step up and seek political office.

The Chamber also holds regular campaign academies that can help potential office seekers and those who want to help on a campaign. The Chamber does not recruit candidates or pick candidates in a race. We are non-partisan and work for the process not a particular issue or candidate. An academy was recently conducted by the Chamber and a good number participated. The Chamber will continue to provide educational opportunities for those seeking to be active in the political process.

A few years ago, I attended a Chamber Campaign Academy. I learned more than I ever imagined and later put that learning to good use as I ran for elected office. I remember one of the panel participants offering the following advice, “run for a political office because you have a passion for doing something or a vision for the community. Do not run for office just because you are angry at something or somebody.”

Hoping not to sound preachy, let me say that governing is hard work. The issues that come before city council, the county commission, or a school board are usually very complex and in many cases emotions can be high. Candidates should be elected based on their ability to use good judgment and sound reasoning in reaching decisions. Once elected they should take advantage of educational opportunities offered by the state to assist a newly elected official in learning how to be a good productive member of a council, commission, or board. I applaud the state legislature for attempting to put in place minimum standards for school board members this year.

The more I remain connected to the political process the more it seems to be a year-round sport. But officially, the 2010 season kicks off this week. All of us need to educate ourselves about the offices that are open, who is seeking them, and what is each candidate is offering us as far as reasons to elect them for those offices. Become informed and get involved!