By J. Mac Holladay, founder and CEO.
Earlier this week I had a chance to return to my roots in North West Tennessee. After flying into Memphis (my hometown) we drove north to Dyersburg. I was addressing a nine county economic development group started by the local developers and Chamber Executives. They had worked hard on a regional plan and had engaged the state in reviewing and continuing to work on the plan.
There are no big cities in that part of Tennessee. My two grandfathers are from there. One was a 6 foot 5 inch country lawyer named Landon Erie Holladay, nicknamed Lake Erie. The other was a circuit riding United Methodist preacher named Elmer Finch McDaniel. Lake Erie was from Dresden in Weakley County and the Reverend McDaniel had churches across the region in the towns of Milan, Newbern, Humboldt, and Covington. My father was born and raised in Dresden and my mom graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin. My Aunt Eula taught the 6th grade in Brownsville for nearly forty years and my Uncle Harold McDaniel was the dentist in Alamo for 40 years as well. My Uncle Harold died two weeks ago at 90. The whole town came out as the Mayor of Crockett County reported to me on Wednesday. A lady came and said that Aunt Eula had been her favorite teacher. I was truly home.
These people have had a hard time in The Great Recession. They have lost many manufacturing jobs that were the backbone of their region. Young people are leaving and the budget challenges are real at the state and local level. But they are not giving up; they are coming together to work on a great new website, a regional accelerator, incubators, an existing business program, new branding efforts, enhanced educational efforts, and a new port in Lake County up on the Mississippi River. Wednesday morning nearly a hundred elected officials, education and business leaders joined the economic and Chamber staffs to review their strategy and discuss how to move ahead. Top officials from the Department of Economic and Community Development were there as well. It made me very proud to see them together putting aside past differences and understanding that they are all in this economic reset together.
They call themselves Tennessee’s Northwest Passage. And so they are. Using a historical reality to launch them into a new economic future. They are committed to a new path, a new strategy and a new partnership. It made me proud to be home again and perhaps help in some small way. I am reminded of the title of our regional strategy for the South I had the pleasure of working on in 1986 – “Halfway Home and A Long Way to Go.” Yes Northwest Tennessee has a long way to go but they are on their way. I believe they will make it all the way home.