When Bob Corker left the U.S. Senate in January to return to private life in his hometown of Chattanooga, three of his top aides also returned to Tennessee to use their Washington, D.C., experience, knowledge and connections to launch a new lobbying, communications and consulting firm known as Bridge Public Affairs.
Todd Womack, who previously served as Corker's chief of staff managing a Senate staff of 67 workers and annual budget of $6 million, is the CEO of the new company and has brought with him Corker's former communications director, Micah Johnson, and the senator's former state director, Brent Wiles.
The company also includes John Goetz, a former director of public affairs for the Swedish wheelchair manufacturer Permobil, and Presley Nixon, a recent college graduate who previously worked as an intern at the Tennessee Valley Authority in Chattanooga and Sseko Designs in Portland, Oregon.
"We were all from Tennessee and have a strong interest in public policy, solving problems and having an impact in our state and around the country," Womack says. "We realized if we created a firm like this, we could continue that type of work for our clients. Our firm may be new, but our work in the public arena spans many decades."
Johnson said she was drawn to the culture of the staff Corker had assembled and was eager to build upon that strength in the private sector once their jobs in the Senate ended after Corker's retirement.
"During our time in Washington, we learned the value of good policy, that there is no substitute for hard work, and that a good reputation is our most important asset," Johnson says.
Womack previously worked in communications roles at Erlanger Health System, Unum and at the city of Chattanooga when Corker was mayor. As he prepares to move his new business into newly renovated space on the fifth floor of the Volunteer Building — owned by his former boss — Womack said starting a business has been as challenging as any of his former jobs, but he is encouraged by its early success.
While setting up offices in Chattanooga, Nashville and Washington, DC., the new company has worked on a variety of federal, state and local issues for more than 20 clients, including helping with the passage in the Tennessee General Assembly of the first state law in the country to regulate "bad drug" advertisements and legislation to provide insurance coverage for complex rehabilitation technology. Bridge also aided Memphis in securing a state grant for its riverfront restoration. The company expects to also work in helping to run political campaigns, Womack said.
"As Chattanooga has evolved and grown up, we're finding that this slate of services has been an underserved area in our community," Womack says. "It's just a great opportunity to be able to do this in our hometown and to hopefully create a service kind of culture that can be successful and generous in giving back to the community."