When Lya (pronounced Lee-ah) Kimbrough left Chattanooga after high school about 10 years ago, moving back here as a young adult wasn't part of her career plan.
But life has a way of unfolding in unexpected ways, and the 28-year-old event planner says she has a whole new perspective on the Scenic City now that she finds herself a young professional here.
"Coming back (to Chattanooga) as an adult is so much different," she says. "It's not so big to where it's overwhelming. There are just so many people doing what they love."
While she was in high school at Chattanooga School for the Art and Sciences, Kimbrough says she lived in the Highway 58 area and didn't come downtown much. But now, being connected to the Enterprise Center, a downtown innovation hub, puts her near the beating heart of the vibrant Innovation District in the central city.
Kimbrough, who cut her teeth on event planning in Atlanta after attending college at Middle Tennessee State University, is events and outreach manager for The Enterprise Center, which is headquartered in the Edney Building at 1100 Market St.
Her move back to her hometown was spurred by the birth of her now 1-year-old daughter, who is watched over by relatives while Kimbrough works two jobs.
In addition to her gig at the Enterprise Center, Kimbrough is also an entrepreneur herself. Her emerging company, Love Runners Intimate Events, is a romance concierge service that arranges custom dates for couples.
Kimbrough says she leverages her connections as a successful event planner to plan dates that couples couldn't, or wouldn't, be able to arrange themselves. For example, she recently planned a getaway for a couple in Atlanta for a husband who was surprising his wife for an anniversary.
After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University in 2014 with a degree in marketing, Kimbrough moved to Atlanta hoping to break into the fashion and modeling business.
To make ends meet, she began working as a server for an Atlanta catering company, Bold Catering & Design, working corporate events and weddings. Eventually she worked her way up in the company from server, to bartender to bar manager and then to event planner.
* Age: 28
* Job: Events and outreach manager for The Enterprise Center
* Hometown: Chattanooga
* College: Middle Tennessee State University
* Family: 1-year-old daughter
Then, in 2017, she took a position with Wolfgang Puck catering in Atlanta, helping to plan events at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. She worked on a variety of projects, from employee lunches to corporate events for companies such as Nike.
In 2019, Kimbrough returned to Chattanooga and took a part-time assignment with The Enterprise Center to work at the 2019 International Placemaking Week conference here, and eventually was offered a full-time position with the center.
As part of her job, she is manager of the Floor Five event space at the Edney Building, which has admittedly been a slow-go lately as COVID-19 has dented the demand for group assemblies.
"This floor is open to the community," she says. "My job is to basically manage all the events on the floor."
After hours, she works on her startup company and participates in the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce Protege leadership program.
"One of my dreams is to develop Love Runners into a full-time job," she says.
"I was growing in Atlanta as an event coordinator," she says. "But now being at The Enterprise Center, I don't think I'm going to leave. I actually do love Chattanooga."