April Cameron couldn't possibly have known it, but she grew up right next door to her future.
"We lived in Dayton," the Rhea County native says, "right beside the airport."
While still an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, she took a part-time accounting job at what is now the Chattanooga Airport. She stayed after earning her degree in 1998 and is now in her fourth month as the airport's CEO.
"For me, success is providing the Chattanooga community with the best air-service opportunities we can possibly provide," says Cameron, who was the airport's vice president for finance and administration when she succeeded the retiring Terry Hart Aug. 1.
"We have great connections out of Chattanooga," she adds, "and the goal is to provide more. We want people to be proud of the airport here in Chattanooga."
Cameron says she was working on an accounting degree when she joined the Chattanooga Airport staff as a part-timer. "Processing payroll and payables; I honestly saw myself going into public accounting, so, of course, here I am."
She succeeded just four years later to the vice president's position she held until this year. Along the way, she earned an MBA from Tennessee Tech in 2012 — and passed on opportunities to leave.
"Chattanooga's home," she says. "I love this area, this community, and wanted to raise my family here.
"And we've had some really difficult times at the airport. We watched 9/11 happen on TV, sitting in the board room. And 2008 was very difficult with the economy. But I didn't want to leave in difficult times — I have a vested interest in this airport.
I wanted to see it through and experience the good times."
Among those good times is likely to be the opening of the airport's $28 million expansion. Originally scheduled to open in June 2024, the project is "several months ahead of schedule," Cameron says.
"It's going to be a highlight for our community," she says. "Two additional gates, an expanded checkpoint, new restaurant and business center — fantastic."
Cameron would have been well-enough prepared to see through the expansion particularly, and take over as airport CEO generally, after 20 years there, but says she had the added benefit of working alongside Hart.
"On every project," she says, "Terry was fantastic at keeping me involved."
Cameron says her designs on the Chattanooga Airport's future include include air-service development.
"My primary focus will be to try to recruit new airlines and destinations," she says. "During (the pandemic) there was no air service to recruit. Airlines had shortages of staffing and equipment.
"Now we're starting to recover," she adds, "so we're going to make a concerted effort to go out, build relationships and tell Chattanooga's story."