The song says, ” It only takes a spark—–to get the fire going “.
Enter the spark, a few good men : Romeo Adams, Royston, entrepreneur ; Frank Harbin, Lavonia, businessman; Harry Sewell, Lavonia, retired US Army Colonel ; Gordon Telford, Sr, Carnesville, banker. Well – balanced in what each brought to the table, it was truly a touch of genius.
Strong men, all. Strong in their faith, strong in their values, strong in their integrity, and strong in their mission. But in personality and in presentation as different as day and night. Frank was the firecracker, the ” get ‘er done today ” thinker ; Gordon was the problem-solver, the ” let’s talk through this, ” thinker ; Romeo was the anchor, the “stay-the-course ” thinker; and Harry was the Colonel, the devil’s advocate, if you will. A more balanced group of intelligent and determined people could not be found. ( Jeff Thompson, in his workshops on perfect groups , could have used these four as a model ).
And so it began in the late 70s and early 80s ,when I was approached by Frank Harbin, asking me to consider becoming the first-ever Executive Director of the Lavonia Chamber of Commerce. Byron and I had moved back to Lavonia, opened a jean shop on the square and were struggling to make a living ! The challenge of a change ( and a small additional income ) was just what I needed. Accept I did, working in a back office at City Hall five mornings a week.
After a couple of years, the Lavonia Depot was renovated and the Chamber office re-located to that building, Enter a few good men ————-and the county changed its course !
Economic development of any sort was non-existent. The number of industries in Franklin County was at an all-time low. Bartson’s had closed its doors ( and that’s fodder for a different tale ), textiles were moving to China, the county’s population had plateaued , and there was no visible progress in small businesses.
Stepping up and stepping out were these four gentlemen VOLUNTEERS, and it would be an under-statement to simply say that they made a difference and leave it at that ! They disregarded city/town biases, personal business competition, criticism from ” Saturday morning quarterbacks “, and time away from their own interests. They were givers, not takers————and these few good men made a difference ! Movers and shakers personified, they gave birth to economic development in our community.
Time, effort, focus, fortitude, and the use of their own personal resources brought to our county several viable industries , businesses and initiatives. To mention a few : a Japanese company that birthed the boulevard of industries on Gerrard Road in Lavonia ( the building is still being used ) ; the Lavonia Clinic, which is now Northeast Georgia Medical Clinic ; Modular Containers, a French company that has since closed but was an asset at the time . But possibly the most significant and the most all-reaching was the founding of the FRANKLIN COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, the pipeline that serves to unite our county.
Dennis Adams, sole Franklin County Commissioner in the 80s, after long and passionate conversations with the four good men and becoming the fifth good man, chose to look forward and mandate a mil of tax for economic development in our county. The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce was formed, and the original Lavonia Chamber office moved to the courthouse in Carnesville, funded by taxes and Chamber membership dues. I was the first Economic Developer and the Chamber officers served as the board , becoming the forerunner of the Industrial Building Authority. Many other county-wide movers and shakers became involved ( too many to mention by name for fear of forgetting someone ), but it eventually took the proverbial village to promote the mission.
The Lavonia Chamber continued with its office in the depot, promoting city businesses and events. It is still quite active and remains an integral part of Lavonia’s growth and potential, although it is no longer housed in the depot.
And the story goes on to another day. A later Commissioner took the mil away, the Chamber office in the courthouse closed, and economic development took a backseat to politics. But survive they did and both Chamber and Economic Development are alive and well with an office in Carnesville , striving for the same outcomes that the founders did. And the Lavonia Chamber is continuing its potential at the city level. All’s well that ends well.
“It only takes a spark …….. to get the fire going”. and when that spark is a group of dedicated men who choose to serve their community and others, everybody wins. Just a few good men——–or in today’s world, a few good women…………That’s all it takes.
( Please comment and/or share if you find this interesting or entertaining ).