Originally created 12/08/00

City leaders say unity is key



Keynote speakers at the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce's joint annual meeting spoke of how their respective cities had prospered once political, racial and geographical hangups were laid to rest.

"Columbus was very average, very mediocre," said James H. Blanchard, chairman and chief executive officer of Columbus-based Synovus Financial Corp., speaking about the town's renaissance in recent years. "It's a community now where the public opinion is that it is growing, thriving and on the move."

The message rang loud and clear with the audience, a virtual Who's Who in Augusta business and politics who will undoubtedly spend much of 2001 trying to build civic unity in the hope of improving the region's quality of life.

Mr. Blanchard said Columbus began forging relationships with Fort Benning and preserving its historic districts in the 1960s, made economic development a local government priority in the 1970s and started revitalizing its downtown in the early 1980s.

"When we're talking about downtown, we're talking about the hub of the wheel," he said. "The strength of the hub is the key."

The event's other featured speaker, Bill Robinson, a managing partner of the Cincinnati law office of Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC, said the Northern Kentucky area in which he is active did not achieve socio-economic prosperity until its various political subdivisions promoted regionalism.

"We were competing with ourselves month in and month out," he said. "It's amazing what can be accomplished when we don't care who gets the credit."

The luncheon meeting also saw chairmen of the Augusta Metro and Columbia County chambers of commerce passing the gavel to next year's leaders.

SunTrust Bank Vice President Andy Kingery, outgoing chairman for the Columbia County chamber, will be replaced in 2001 by real estate agent Linda Crowell.

Augusta Metro Chairman Bill Thompson, president of SunTrust Bank, will be handing over leadership to Ed Tarver, partner of Hull, Towill, Norman, Barrett & Salley.

Mr. Tarver said his goals are to increase participation of chamber members in the organization's events and to "assume a more aggressive" role in internal and external community affairs.

"(Chamber President Jim West) told me what he really needed most was a cheerleader," Mr. Tarver said. "I told him my legs weren't that attractive, but that I would yell as loud as anybody."

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or bized@augustachronicle.com.