The Joy in Finding the Right Fit

By Brad McEwen

Despite some initial uncertainty when I was charged with coordinating the Albany Herald’s coverage of Lee County, getting the opportunity to report on the various newsworthy things happening in my neighboring community turned out to be one of the more fulfilling aspects of my time with the paper.

From the start I found Lee County, and its Leesburg hub, to be a fascinating place—a tight-knit and vibrant community filled with welcoming and dedicated residents more than willing to help me navigate my new surroundings.

While I certainly made connections with dozens of interesting and helpful citizens, civic leaders, educators and business people who have a burning passion for their community, there were few I enjoyed working with as much as Lee County Chamber Vice President and Director of Marketing, Memberships and Events Lisa Davis.

From the first time I met her—likely providing some kind of media coverage for one of the myriad things the Lee County Chamber is involved with in the community—it felt like I had known her for years and her enthusiasm for her adopted community was contagious.

And knowing Lee County Chamber and EDC chief Winston Oxford, it’s those same traits that likely compelled the organization to bring her onboard nearly a decade ago to help recruit and support member businesses and further strengthen the still thriving community.

“I don’t know that I would have been a fit everywhere,” Lisa told me during a recent visit to her office to discuss her passion for Lee County and her work at the Chamber. “I guess raising my boys in this community and living here for a number of years, I just felt like I was a good fit.

“I love this community and I knew it would be somewhat easy because people like being here.”

That people like being in Lee County is something Lisa said she realized early on after moving there from southern Florida with her family and getting involved in the local school system.

“Before we even came here everybody was like, ‘You’ve got to move to Lee County,’” Lisa said. “I didn’t like leaving home, but South Florida has its trials. We got in a great neighborhood and I was able to be a stay-at-home mom. I loved it. I was very involved in the schools and loved it. I should have probably gotten a paycheck from them. I always joke that if you really want to know something about me, I was born to be a mother. Still to this day my favorite job is being a mom.”

While being a mom might still be here favorite job, and something she always wanted to do, it’s not the only thing Lisa said she dreamed of doing in her life. In fact, she said she came very close to getting what she thought was her dream job, just before landing the Chamber position she now cherishes.

“Growing up my dream job as a child was to be a flight attendant,” she said with a smile. “I flew at a young age because we moved away and every summer I got to fly to my grandparent’s house. So I had this love of flying and flight attendants were always good to me. They take care of you and I was in awe of them.

“In my pursuit of looking for a job I actually applied for a flight attendant position and two weeks before my interview for this job I went for my interview for the flight attendant position. Really I was just excited to have the opportunity to go and interview. Well, I was set to interview here on a Friday and that Friday morning I get an email with an offer for the flight attendant job.

“I thought I was just going to go ahead and come up here and do the interview, but I was stoked thinking, ‘I’m going to be flight attendant!’”

Fortunately for the Lee County community that now reaps the reward of her dedicated service, Lisa was quite impressed with the Chamber leadership she met with and after some serious soul-searching realized working to benefit the community she had come to cherish was something she valued more than the travel involved in being a flight attendant.

“I came in and interviewed with Winston and Greg (Crowder) and fell in love with both of them,” she said. “And I kind of walked out of here depressed because I’m like, ‘Holy crap! I’ve finally got this opportunity to be a flight attendant and then this comes about.’

“Well after I left here Winston called and I shared with him the email I’d gotten that morning and he said, ‘Oh my God. You’re kidding me!? We want you for this job—that’s why I’m calling you. You’ve just got to take this job!’ I asked him if I could take the weekend to think about it and said I would make my decision and let them know something.

“It was turmoil. It was a horrible weekend. I just remember it never left my mind and not wanting to sleep and not wanting to eat because it was a huge decision.

“But, as hard as it was to turn loose of what I thought was my dream job though, this has been the perfect fit for me.”

In describing how the Chamber job is such a good fit for her, Lisa likes to talk about a few of the things she sees as core tenants of working at a Chamber—the chief of which is relationship-building.

“Everything’s about relationships,” she told me. “We have meetings where everybody’s involved—EMS, public safety, the sheriff’s department, elected officials. You know what your task is and even though each person brings their own expertise to the table, you just know whatever you need that they’re going to be there. And I feel the same way.

“Everybody just comes together. You just do what you need to do to make something happen and nobody’s like, ‘that’s not my job.’ I feel like the majority of people that I work with, like a [Lee County Family Connection Executive Director] Patsy Shirley, if we even have a little bit of a piece of something, it’s a reflection of us, so we want everybody to look good.

“This community is easy to sell because like I said, everybody works well together.”

Throughout our conversation, Lisa stressed the importance of teamwork within the community and how that has led to the community’s success—especially when that teamwork comes in the form of corporate citizens.

Lisa said that workforce development is a key mission for the Lee County Chamber and that many of the activities the organization is involved with center not only around strengthening the connections between member businesses and the community in general, but between member businesses and area students.

“Workforce development is essential work for a Chamber,” Lisa said. “One of the things that we battle is that kids graduate, they go to college and once they’re out from down here some of them don’t come back. Like those college and career academies, that’s one of their focuses and I agree with it. One thing we’re trying to do is help to connect these kids to the community. And it comes back to relationships.

“If they can build local relationships with community leaders it helps with that. And I love that here a lot of our partners, especially business partners, contribute because they see the payoff. So we have our students get involved with things like our “Eggs and Issues Breakfast.” We’ve got to do what we can to get them invested in the community to where, sure they may go off, but we want them to come home.

“They’re our future leaders, our future business owners.

“Our local businesses are really good about financially and physically investing in our school system and our kids.”

Working to connect to the community’s youth and helping to develop them, even at a young age, is the main reason why the Chamber decided to become a partner with another program—Literate Lee, which is designed to improve literacy for children from birth to age 8.

“We developed a team, Literate Lee, which is the retired educators, Family Connection, the library and us and we got a $100,000 grant, which we’re really excited about,” Lisa said. “When we can be a part of something like that, I think that’s huge. We have to make an investment in our community. We’re out there selling it, so we need to be doing it.”

Lisa said the Chamber is also about to start partnering with Family Connection on a new youth leadership program designed to expose younger students to leadership skills building.

“Our goal with the youth leadership program is to work with them at an early age to learn about their community and how it works, what part they can play and how they can contribute and give back,” Lisa explained. “The Chamber and Family Connection are working with our middle schools to put a plan in place to continue working with these young folks through high school.

“We want them to invest in their community now and in the future and one day be our next great leaders.”

Lisa said the Chamber is also doing something similar with adult citizens through its Leadership Lee program, which helps to educate citizens about their community and the issues it’s facing.

“We try to inform them about what is in our community—different businesses, education, manufacturing, a little about how our local government works, and our strengths and weaknesses –to help them make better informed decisions on choosing local leadership and what policies will better our community,” she added.

Of course, as much dedication Lisa has to improving Lee County, she is one that also realizes that the community’s prosperity is interconnected with the success of the entire Southwest Georgia region—which includes neighboring counties like Dougherty, Worth, Sumter, Terrell and others.

That’s why she’s also a member of Locate South Georgia—an initiative where communities across southern Georgia work together to figure out ways to grow and attract new businesses to the area.

“The majority of our member businesses are in Dougherty County,” Lisa said. “But I take some pride in that. They’re typically members of both. They get it. Granted there’s lines—there’s Lee County and there’s Dougherty County—but I love it when my folks understand that we’re all in this fish tank together.

“We talk about that in Locate too. As a region, that manufacturer may not come to Lee County, but if it comes to Mitchell County, Dougherty County, Baker County, I mean everybody benefits.

“There has to be a happy medium where you love being the little South Georgia town, but at the same time, you’ve got to move forward. Change is going to happen and we can either have it be happening to our benefit—the way we want it—or we can sit here and it can run us over.”

But while she understands the importance the regionalism concept is going to have on Lee County’s future, she said she always stays focused first and foremost on her home community and making sure that it grows for the benefit of its citizens.

“It’s tough,” she said. “But our job is to bring businesses here. And everything we do is to support that—like the investment in education, because you need a good workforce. We’ve just got to support all of that. You can’t really put your finger on one thing. It’s all about business. It’s what drives our membership; it’s what drives us. This community’s got to have that to survive.

“It’s great to be a bedroom community and have families come, but we need goods and services.”

Fortunately, Lisa stressed, she works in a community that seems to wholeheartedly embrace what the Chamber is doing and she gets support at every turn—sometimes even from unexpected places.

For example, she said some of Lee County’s most famous citizens have turned out to be some of the best ambassadors she’s had the pleasure of working with—thanks to the fact that men like Phillip Phillips, Buster Posey and Luke Bryan have all very publicly supported their community despite their growing fame.

“Here’s something to boast about—they have all been incredible representatives of this area,” she said. “People love them and you hear it all the time; what they love about them is they don’t lose their sense of self. Luke, I think we can all say, is at the top and he still relishes in saying where he’s from. He doesn’t forget about us.

“And they are all giving back. And I think they do it because they are proud of where they’re from. They love it here. They’re proud of where they’re from and how they were raised.

“They get it.”

And it’s not just the county’s more famous citizens that “get it” either. Throughout our conversation Lisa talked about how supportive the community is and how much she enjoys being a part of the various connections that run through Lee County.

“We’re about networking, getting people together, making those connections,” she said with a smile. “That’s the part I really think I love about this job—when you can connect the right folks with the right folks, if that makes sense.

“I like to see how it all fits together in the whole networking thing—seeing a need and knowing somebody over there and saying, ‘Hey you should really get involved in this.’ You just see the perfect fit—just like I thought I was a perfect fit for this job. You see the perfect pairing or the perfect fit for this business to be a part of.

“Our people get it. They understand what their investment—personal investment and the community investment—gets. They understand the rewards that come from it.

“And those people make my job easy. I mean they really do. It’s easy to sell and be a cheerleader when you’ve got a good product. And this community’s a good product.”

Of course a large part of what makes the community such an attractive place that’s easy to sell is having dedicated servants like Lisa Davis—who has taken her love of Lee County and made it a priority to share that affection every chance she gets.

I have no doubt that thanks to her enthusiasm and passion Lee County will continue to be a thriving and exciting community well into the future.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen