In mid-May, Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Brent Christensen announced that he will leave Gainesville. Add to that the relatively recent departure of Community Redevelopment Agency economic development manager Anthony Lyons, and you have a potentially big loss for the community. But their departures have a positive side: Gainesville’s surging innovation economy is something their new employers want to emulate.
Christensen certainly held an ace in his hand when interviewing for his new post, which he starts in late June, heading economic development for the entire state of Mississippi. That ace is MindTree’s decision to bring hundreds of new jobs to Gainesville. He could justifiably brag about how all parts of the community rallied together to court the international software development company.
He had every right to take personal credit for leading the creation of Innovation Gainesville, which got everyone singing on the same hymn sheet about what Alachua County has to offer.
The MindTree recruitment and the coming of age of Innovation Gainesville are just a part of Brent’s achievements during his past decade at the Chamber.
These achievements came about, in no small part, because Brent is a master of coordinating collaboration, often behind the scenes and modestly, preferring for others to get the credit.
Lyons made his mark in only five years. He moved quickly in transforming the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency from an aloof bureaucracy into a welcoming organization that got things done.
I went to the CRA before he arrived to seek its help on a townhouse project I was considering on Hawthorne Road. The staff member I met with essentially said, “We can’t give you any advice because we need to remain objective when you come to us to seek money to assist your project.”
Lyons had a much saner, and more effective, approach. He’s always glad to chat candidly. He’s enthusiastic and encouraging. He’s imaginative and thinks outside the box.
Boise is blessed to have him leading its economic development efforts, a role he began at the first of the year.
Although both Christensen and Lyons each made a unique contribution to Gainesville, they’re not indispensible. They leave behind legacies of competent staffs that they’ve molded. Each has contributed to a cohesive economic development community that will grow and prosper.
Brent said it well when we chatted about his plans: “Someone compared my leaving to when Spurrier left, but that’s not the case. When Spurrier left, he took the playbook. The playbook is staying here after I leave, and the folks who are staying will continue to do a good job executing it.”
As I reflect on seeing them go, I wonder why anyone would go.
This thought says more about my fondness for Gainesville and my excitement about the way people are working together like never before than it does about the wisdom of these dynamic guys making key career moves.
Gainesville’s momentum is unstoppable. Christensen and Lyons helped make it so.
Chris Eversole is the Business Report’s Senior Writer.