Alliance for Dade Hires President/CEO and Director of Tourism
By LYDIA BERGLAR
Sandy White and Margo McDade recently joined the Alliance for Dade, with White leading the Alliance as president and CEO and McDade filling the role of director of tourism.
Officially called “Alliance for Dade: Your Chamber of Commerce and Welcome Center,” the group has been led solely by the board since its inception. Previous to White and McDade, there were no paid personnel with the Alliance aside from those who manned the visitor center.
“There hasn’t been a director since the Alliance was created,” noted White. “The board has had to be more active than most boards typically are because of that and has done a great job.”
White’s position is entirely new, and McDade’s is expanded from what was previously the visitor center attendant. Together, they will take steps to improve the local economy by planning, managing, and implementing programs and events that help improve the community’s quality of life and promote and support economic vitality for businesses and activities in the county.
Both sincerely appreciate the uniqueness of Dade County. In McDade’s words, “The people are welcoming and kind. In my first week, one lady on the art committee brought me flowers. It’s not like working for a large corporation. It felt very personal right away. People are very connected and willing to help each other out.”
White is impressed that Dade County is not just a bedroom community for Chattanooga. “It really has its own identity; it really is its own place. A lot of communities our size are dying communities, but local leadership and residents have obviously done something right, because the community is prosperous, inviting, and a great place to live.”
McDade grew up in Franklin, TN and joins us from Knoxville, TN where she graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. An internship at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame led her to pursue tourism.
“I got to help plan events, including their annual induction ceremony with 1,000 attendees,” she recalls. “The museum is a big tourism draw. After that internship, I started looking for jobs in tourism, and I liked the fact that here, my role was new and the Alliance was a small but growing organization.”
McDade’s work is integral in increasing tourism and making information available. “We’re trying to make all of the information readily available to people who live here as well as people traveling through.”
She manages the welcome center, but she will also be assisting White with numerous projects, including the creation of a one-page brochure highlighting the natural beauty of the community.
Subsequently, they will develop a more comprehensive brochure that offers visitors more details about the assets of the county.
White plans to print and distribute the one-page brochure quickly in the coming weeks so that information will be available for the traveling public in Dade County. They plan to publish the more detailed brochure in early spring covering lodging, attractions, itineraries, wedding venues, restaurants, shopping, and anything that showcases the County.
A companion to that, White noted, is a tourism website which will be connected to the Alliance for Dade site. “The tourism element of the Alliance for Dade site will be expanded and have its own URL, but will be linked to the Alliance site and also accessible in other ways.” White also noted that the county runs an informative community calendar that will also be linked to the tourism site.
McDade (who started on Sept. 6) and White (who started on Oct. 24) are making an effort to visit local attractions and businesses. Several that they’ve enjoyed include the Rising Fawn Gardens, the Trenton Golf Club, the Lookout Mountain Flight Park, Hope House, Uncle Lars Outpost, Corner Coffee, and Cloudland Canyon State Park.
White has already met with the representative from our region’s Small Business Development Center office that supports Dade County. “There are a lot of resources that they can provide for small businesses,” she says. “That’s one of our roles at the chamber: to find resources, grant money if it’s available, and other contacts that can help the businesses in this community. We want to be a resource for small businesses to large businesses to the arts community and more.”
White’s career in chamber work began in the late 80s, and she has spent most of her career in community and economic development work. In addition to ten years in Homer, AK, and chamber work in her hometown of Hawkinsville, GA, she has also worked in several small communities throughout Georgia.
“I love this work, it’s a lot of fun,” White says. “It can also be tedious at times, but I like seeing a community grow and reach its full potential.”
Directly prior to moving to Dade County, White worked a seasonal job with the Sitka, AK visitor center. She began looking for a place she could call home and found the Alliance for Dade. “I’d been to Cloudland Canyon years ago and remembered it being a gorgeous area and had actually been through here last fall. I’m a small-town girl, and after researching the area further, I knew this would be a good fit,” she says.
When it comes to improving a town and community, White believes there are smell steps that can make a significant impact. “A community can grow and prosper without losing its identity and what makes it special by planning for the future and then going after what the community thinks will meet the present and future needs of its citizens.”
“We’re not Chattanooga, and we don’t want to be,” she stated. “Growth is good, but managed growth is better. The best way for a community to get the change they want is to have some control over that change.”
White believes that citizens and leaders need to decide what they want to see in the community. “Go after the businesses you do want here, and don’t take just anything that comes. Have plans, even though they’re fluid and can change. They can act as a guide to positive growth for the future. Then, you can avoid uncontrolled growth and keep it from becoming so expensive that people who grew up here can’t live here anymore.”
On the topic of tourism, White says, “We don’t necessarily need to attract more visitors; we just need to make sure that the ones who are already coming to the county are seeing more of the county, staying longer, and spending more dollars here.”
McDade added, “I see the potential here. It is unlike any place I’ve ever lived or worked. People genuinely care. For example, we went to the Groovy Nomad this morning and met Ryan and Melissa, the couple who owns it, and they are excited about the potential they see in the county and want to help make Dade County even better for their children and grandchildren.”
White added, “It’s community; it’s knowing your neighbors. You don’t get that in a larger place, and that’s what makes Dade County special.”