SYLVANIA, Ga. — I submit that there are certain things in life that you can teach and thereby learn, and certain things that you can’t. You either have it or you don’t.
Now let me tell you a true story. It happened to me this past week.
So I was sitting on an airplane at the Charlotte airport, awaiting take off. It was about 5:30 pm on Sunday, Jan. 5, when the pilot announced over the intercom that our U.S. Airways flight to Savannah, Ga., was cancelled due to heavy fog there in Charlotte.
I immediately called Jason Hamman, my partner on an economic development consulting project that was to ultimately take us to Sylvania, the county seat of Screven County in South Georgia. Jason, with Ohio-based Hamman Consulting Group, had also just arrived in Charlotte and was in the same terminal when I reached him.
He said his U.S. Airways flight to Savannah was to leave at 6:30 pm. So I raced to his gate to see if I might be able to get on the same flight. But the airline was none too helpful in providing us with any useful information, until it became clear that Jason’s flight was also cancelled.
So We Decide to Drive
With no hopes of getting to Savannah by air that night (we learned from Jason’s aunt, a travel agent, that all flights were booked solid the next day) and knowing that we had a bunch of scheduled meetings on Monday, we decided to drive the four hours to Savannah and then onto Sylvania, our final destination.
U.S. Airways did make one thing clear. We would be leaving without our luggage. Our bags were somewhere there at the Charlotte airport, but we could not get them. They would be delivered to Savannah, but when they could not say.
Armed with this discouraging information, we called our soon-to-be host, Dorie Bacon, of Screven County Development Authority, to report our travails. Dorie’s board had recently hired us to provide the county with a strategic/action plan as a guide for their future industrial recruitment and this trip was to be our first on-the-ground investigative venture.
When we told Dorie of our intentions of making the drive to Screven County that night, she asked for our sizes. I didn’t give much thought to it, as I was thinking about getting into a rental car as soon as possible.
A Rental Car from Hell
Seeing red meat, Dollar jumped at the opportunity to gouge us to the tune of $317 for making the four-hour drive. When we dropped their car off in Savannah shortly before midnight on Sunday, I was feeling sort of violated by the whole thing.
But it would only get worse. On Thursday, four days later, I received my first automated telephone call from the security department of Dollar telling me that they would report the rental car stolen if I did not return it right away. I immediately called them back to report that they had their car, that it was turned in late Sunday night.
But they must not have believed me, because I kept getting the same threatening automated telephone calls — “to avoid legal action against you” — on Friday and Saturday. And I kept calling them back to repeat that the car had been turned in at the Savannah airport on Sunday night.
But forget them. Truly, I am done with that incompetent bunch. And probably U.S. Airways as well, as we got more useful information from Jason’s aunt on the phone in Ohio than we did from the airline representatives standing in front of us.
But It Got Better
We arrived at Kinchley Place, our bed and breakfast in Sylvania, at about 1:30 am Monday via another rental car. Jason and I were exhausted and feeling a bit deflated from our run of bad luck.
But here is where it got better. There sitting on a table in a large open room off from our respective bedrooms were new clothes – two white shirts, two pair of slacks, packages of t-shirts and underwear, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste and assorted toiletries.
Dorie had come to the rescue. She had provided.
I turned the light off at 2 a.m., not knowing how well I would perform at our initiation meeting at 8 a.m. with the community, but knowing that our host was thinking of us. And that made me feel better.
The next morning, we were introduced to a roomful of maybe 30 people or so, many of them local public officials. Jason and I had to get up and explain ourselves and our mission, which turned out to be easier than expected. I thanked Dorie publicly, saying that she had provided me with my preferred brand of underwear and that I was feeling very good about the whole situation now.
The Point of This Story
What Dorie did for us was both thoughtful and exceptional. It’s not something she learned as an economic developer in an IEDC classroom, but rather it’s something she inherently knew would be the right thing to do. Staring down at the new clothes on the table, all with the correct sizes, Jason and I knew we were dealing with a special person.
We would subsequently get our missing luggage on Monday night. Jason left Screven County on Wednesday afternoon and I left on Friday morning after engaging in more than 20 interviews with a variety of stakeholders.
But before I left, Dorie joined me for breakfast at Kinchley Place, which I can recommend as a fine B&B. (Proprietor Bob Owers, who gave me a useful walking tour of Sylvania’s historic downtown one night, makes a mean breakfast.)
It was there at breakfast Thursday morning that I violated the terms of my agreement. You see these interviews, foundational to a SWOT analysis that is a part of our report, were to be completely confidential. I had no intention of telling Dorie what I had been picking up, but rather incorporate my findings in our report which would follow. But I felt compelled to spill the beans to some degree.
“Dorie, I don’t know what exactly you are doing, but even among people who fundamentally disagree on certain issues regarding the county, they pretty much all agree that you are doing a great job. I just thought you should know that.”
Points on the Board
I suspect it is not a great coincidence that Screven County won its first sizeable industrial project since the 1970s with Dorie Bacon at the helm. She joined the Development Authority in May 2011.
Shrivallabh Pittie Group, an Indian textile manufacturer, announced this past October that it will invest $70 million to build its first U.S.-based manufacturing facility at the Screven County Industrial Park. The plant will employ about 250 people and manufacture cotton yarn. Production should begin by January 2016.
Latasha N. Roberts, executive director of the Screven County Chamber of Commerce, said this soon after the announcement.
“Today belongs to Dorie Bacon, one of the greats and the very definition of a woman on the move. Her devotion to this county, the many projects she’s fought for on behalf of the Screven County people, the endless site visitations, last minute request for information reports, and the sheer joy she takes in her work have made Tuesday’s announcement meaningful in so many ways.”
Actually, there were two announced wins for Screven County in 2013. Omega Piezo Technologies, Inc. announced in April that it would open a manufacturing plant in a building in Sylvania that many thought should be razed.
But that rehabbed building looks pretty good today and Omega Piezo is going forward with plans to make high quality piezoelectric and alumina products used in alarm systems and medical devices. The plant will create about 20-25 jobs over a two-year period.
“Dorie and the Screven County Development Authority did an outstanding job putting together a great incentive package that was tailored to suit all of our needs,” said Dr. David Pickrell, President of Omega Piezo Technologies, Inc. “They made our decision to come to Screven County an easy one.”
I usually don’t brag on people unless they go above and beyond the call of duty. Dorie did for us and apparently does for others as well. And now it’s our turn to reciprocate and do for Dorie and Screven County.
It is Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, and I just got my third automated telephone call of the day from the security department from Dollar. Stupid is as stupid does.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. If your company needs an optimal location for future operations anywhere in North America, we can help. If your community needs to improve its competitive standing, we can help. All requests for information are considered confidential.
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