Leslie Gower: Building on Chattanooga's success

Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee Executive Director Leslie Gower during a photo shoot in the board room at the AGC office on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Leslie Gower became the third executive director in as many years of the Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee this year, following the unexpected death of former director Tim McGhee. McGhee died last December only five months after taking the top job at the building trade group following the retirement of AGC's long-time executive Roger Tuder.

Gower brings a rich experience in city building and trade association work and calls her new job and hometown "ideal" for her interests and family.

Gower and her husband moved to Chattanooga from Memphis in early 2017 after hearing about all that was happening in Chattanooga during intercity visits Leslie was a part of in both Chattanooga and Memphis. She came to Chattanooga even without a job after serving as a communications vice president and director for 15 years at the Downtown Memphis Commission.

"In that job, I visited a lot of downtowns and came to Chattanooga in February 2016 on one of those visits and just fell in love with this city," she recalls. "Chattanooga is on the move and is a city where I think people can get involved and make a difference. I told my husband who had just sold his company about Chattanooga and we decided this would be a great place to live and raise our kids so we sold our house and moved here."

A graduate of the University of Georgia, Gower worked for trade associations in Atlanta, Detroit and Washington D.C. before moving to Memphis in 2002 to work on marketing and development at the downtown Memphis agency that is similar to River City Co. in Chattanooga. In Memphis, Gower served on the Beale Street Brass Notes Selection Committee, the International Downtown Association, Leadership Memphis, the Memphis Area Association of Governments and the New Memphis Institute and she started her own consulting firm, Gower Strategies.

AGC of East Tennessee, one of 89 AGC associations in the country including two in Tennessee, represents and promotes builders and their subcontractors and related industries in 22 counties around Chattanooga in East Tennessee. AGC provides training, networking, a map room with plans for new projects and a host of other services. With more than 200 members, the association is currently undergoing a strategic planning process for its future with its new leader.

Although Chattanooga and Cleveland have had the fastest growth in construction jobs in Tennessee over the past year, the region still hasn't gotten back to its pre-recession employment levels and Gower says staffing remains the biggest challenge for most builders.

To entice more workers into construction, Gower said AGC is working to promote more trade skills education in both high school and college. The association recently started a group for emerging leaders in the industry, known as BLOCK or Building Leaders of Chattanooga.