Two critical Columbus institutions came under new management Monday.
Columbus State University and the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce both marked the first day with new leaders. Chris Markwood became the sixth president of Columbus State, while Brian Anderson took over the chamber.
Both of them started their new jobs in a similar fashion — lots of meetings and lots of listening.
Markwood spent most of Monday meeting with university vice presidents and staff as well as going through the process to get on the payroll. He did, however, meet with retired W.C. Bradley Co. Chairman Bill Turner, who has been instrumental in the development of Columbus State and the community.
“I got to hear from him about his vision many years ago of how things might be on this campus and this community and where he still has visions for how Columbus can continue to grow,” Markwood said.
With eight meetings on his first day, Anderson has started a quick pace he plans to keep throughout the summer.
“My goal, as I told my board is I want to meet with the most influential 100 leadership in the community — president of the college, business leaders, elected officials,” Anderson said. “My goal is to meet with the top leadership as fast as possible so that I have a 90- to 100-day plan to introduce myself to all of them and get to know them.”
Anderson has an objective of what he will try and accomplish in those meetings, which will start at the end of the week.
“I want to know what they think about us and what they think about the community, about the intersection of what we do and what they want to accomplish,” Anderson said.
While the two men lead different organizations, they will both be in the fabric of the city and region’s leadership, said Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.
“First of all, you have two major organizations in this community that are vision organizations,” Tomlinson said. “With the chamber, it is how do we grow, thrive, succeed and attract businesses here. CSU is a major investor in some of the biggest revitalization projects. That has everything to do with vision.”
Markwood and Anderson arrive at a critical time, the mayor said.
“We are entering a new chapter in this city, and I have been talking about that for some time,” Tomlinson said. “Look at what is happening with the river; we have reversed the brain drain and we are coming out of the recession. What happens now will set the tone for many years to come.”
Part of that future includes the ongoing Columbus State five-year capital fundraising campaign that hopes to raise more than $100 million. Markwood promises he will quickly get up to speed on that effort, which is supporting projects on the main and downtown campuses.
“I have to be able to talk to people intelligently, convincingly about how they can connect with this campus and invest in this campus,” Markwood said.
As Markwood, 49, took stock of Columbus State for the first time Monday as its president, he sees opportunity. He comes to Columbus after serving as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
“I see a campus and a community that have really partnered together to put an educational institutional on a trajectory of tremendous growth — growth in excellence, growth in numbers and growth in quality,” Markwood said. “That is exciting to see how the city and community have seen this as a partnership, not as something that one or the other is going in alone.”
Anderson, 50, brings a business, political and nonprofit management background to Columbus. He has spent the last seven years as president of the Greater Dalton (Ga.) Chamber of Commerce. Before that he was chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners. He also worked for nearly 20 years at Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch distributorships.
Dalton was heavily dependent on the floor-covering and carpet industry and when the economy began to falter eight years ago, Whitfield County was the hardest hit in the state with 15 percent unemployment. Working though that is a plus as he comes to Columbus.
“I bring to this job that I have been through the worst, and I know if you plan accordingly and work together, you can make difficult times better,” Anderson said. “But you have to pull together, work together and make sure you are focused on the right things.”
One of those elements of focus will be protecting jobs at Fort Benning as sequestration and defense-spending cuts loom.
“This sequestration thing is going to be a big deal,” Anderson said. “Fort Benning is an existing industry. It is $4 billion worth of economic impact every year.”
A strong focus will remain on Fort Benning, Anderson said.
“This group here has always had a good focus on that,” Anderson said. “We are going to continue that, maybe even ratchet it up.”