Thomasville Fact-Finding Mission

The Thomasville fact-finding mission was well worth the early morning departure time, long ride and bumpy roads.

Thomasville, Alabama is 100 miles from everywhere but the Mayor of this city has figured out how to get beyond that disadvantage. With only 4,500 residents, Thomasville has more than 300 businesses, 26 restaurants, three major industries, four hotels and another hotel soon to be constructed along with a new hospital and a new library. This is such an incredible success story considering where Thomasville is located.

This town is in a remote part of the state that is near to nothing. Yet we traveled the 3-hour distance motivated by a determination to learn the Thomasville secret to success. Fortunately, we had the right group of community stakeholders on this trip. As the Chairperson of the Chamber’s Tourism and Business Development Committee, I joined forces with Superintendent Dr. Jacqueline Brooks and we mobilized a broad cross section of the community for this fact-finding mission.

As we arrived in front of Thomasville’s City Hall, an electronic sign saying “Welcome Tuskegee” as well as Mayor Sheldon Day himself, greeted us. Our first stop was at the Thomasville Civic Center. Formerly a high school, it has been repurposed and now houses City Hall, event spaces frequently rented for weddings, several meeting rooms and a magnificent 500-seat theater that rivals any big city venue.

Mayor Day delved into a Power Point presentation of Thomasville’s successes including the times his small, rural town beat Houston and Dallas for multi-million dollar companies looking for a place to bring their facilities and jobs. We learned from his presentation that Thomasville has five industrial parks, well maintained family-friendly parks, a golf course and a municipally owned country club. Throughout the year, festivals, concerts and other events including the popular Ghost Walk are coordinated by the Thomasville Chamber of Commerce, which receives $150,000 each year in operating funds.

The mayor was a wonderful tour guide while showing us stores, restaurants and businesses in the downtown area, which has been revitalized and now features loft apartments accented by French Quarter-style balconies with rents averaging $1,000 per month.

Thomasville with a population of 4,500 residents has a municipal budget of $11 million annually, derived primarily from retail sales. If you are wondering, how does this little town do so much? Here’s the answer. Thomasville has made itself the retail hub of the region. And the people in Thomasville shop at home, along with others who pour into Thomasville from the surrounding area. It adds up to a Primary Retail Trade Area Population of 90,000 with even more growth potential.

Mayor Day is the chief cheerleader in Thomasville and he will go to the end of the earth for a business meeting, trade mission or potential opportunity that can benefit his town. He is a familiar face in China and his travel budget yields a strong ROI. Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group and its $100 million manufacturing facility and 300 jobs is just one of the success stories on his list.

Though he pursues major opportunities he also has a heart for people who are down on their luck. Two years before the big industrial companies moved into the area, he and other stakeholders implemented programs to help prepare “gappers” for the jobs that were coming. He said they did, “everything from WorkKeys to GEDs, assessments, resume building, you name it and we did it to make folks more career ready.”

Pumped up and ready to build our own success stories, we branded ourselves the “Tuskegee Progressives.”

Large scale prosperity may not happen overnight but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. When we traveled to Thomasville on this fact-finding mission, it was a critical first step in the right direction.

**Special thanks to Bobby Davis and A.J. Nelson for being so supportive.