On the fast track: Alex Morrison’s career takes off quickly

Alex Morrison’s career took off quickly after graduating from college

lmorris@macon.comDecember 7, 2013 

morrison

Alex Morrison, plans in hand, heads to his office at the Terminal Station on Tuesday in Macon.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com Buy Photo

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated who announced the College Hill Commission. Then-Mayor C. Jack Ellis and Mercer University President Bill Underwood made the announcement. Below is a corrected version.

Alex Morrison has accomplished a lot in a fairly short period of time.

While attending Mercer University, he spearheaded efforts to create the College Hill Corridor. After graduate school, Morrison was hired by the city of Macon to create a Main Street program, then took a job as the executive director of the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority.

In 2012 he got married, and earlier this year he was asked to add another economic development title to his current job description.

All this happened before Morrison’s 29th birthday, which is later this month.

Mercer philosophy professor Peter Brown, who saw something special in Morrison as a student, is not surprised at Morrison’s ability to catapult his career so quickly.

“He’s a very enthusiastic and ambitious person who at the same time cares deeply about making a positive change in whatever he’s working with and working on,” Brown said. “He’s sort of an ideal type to be in this civic leadership position, which is where I see him at this point in his career.”

While Morrison didn’t discover what direction he wanted his career to go until his senior year in college, he’s been able to put some of his early interests to use in his current work.

After his parents moved back to Georgia from Louisiana when he was 2, Morrison spent most of his formative years growing up in rural Pike County.

While in high school, Morrison was on the tennis team four years and wrote for the school’s newspaper.

“I liked writing and really enjoyed being involved in the news process” and even considered a career in law or journalism, he said.

“Public policy was really what undergirded the interest in law or journalism -- being able to understand and influence communities, to help people,” he said.

During his senior year at Mercer, Morrison took a class that focused on “the fate of the city.”

The class, taught by Brown, had to come up with a strategy for increasing jobs in Macon.

The students came up with data that showed Macon had a lot of talent because it has so many institutions of higher education “within a 40-mile radius that most communities would love to have,” he said. “We tried to articulate why that was a big advantage here.”

Another class was working on a topic called “placemaking.” Some of the students from both classes got together and decided they didn’t want their research efforts to die.

Morrison and others convinced Brown to add another course so they could try to do something with what they had gathered so far, Morrison said.

A philosophy of persuasion course was created the next semester, and “our challenge was to convince someone to do something, which is surprisingly difficult,” he said.

“We combined the placemaking piece and the creativity piece and put together something we decided to call the College Hill Corridor,” he said.

The students made presentations to residents, Mercer President Bill Underwood, NewTown Macon and people with the city of Macon, he said.

“They liked the idea of doing beautification, targeted recruitment and the branding of the area between Mercer University and downtown -- the one mile area,” he said.

Before long, Mayor C. Jack Ellis and Underwood got together and announced the College Hill Corridor Commission, “and we ran with it just weeks later,” Morrison said. “It was really birthed from that, and it became a movement.”

The process changed Morrison’s career plans.

Morrison, who originally wanted to study philosophy at the University of Georgia after graduating from Mercer, soon realized it wasn’t his true calling.

Ultimately, he decided to get his master’s degree in public administration from UGA.

As fate would have it, just as Morrison was ready to graduate in 2010, Macon was looking for someone to get its Main Street program established.

Morrison was hired as a business and economic development specialist with the city’s Economic and Community Development Department.

“My goal was always to come back to Macon,” he said. “The perfect job was available at the right time.”

While in that position, he established a board, a work plan, meeting schedule and basically got everything ready to be filed to create an official Main Street Macon program.

That’s when opportunity knocked.

Sid Cherry, the longtime executive director of the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority, was looking to retire.

Morrison was contacted by the authority for an interview. When he was offered the job as executive director, “I couldn’t pass it up.”

Authority member Rudell Richardson remembers when Morrison was considered for the job.

“We were thinking we needed a high-powered person, a person with connections throughout the region,” said Richardson, a certified public accountant. “(But the board decided) what we need is a fresh set of eyes and a person who had energy. Alex possessed both of those, and he’s smart.”

Richardson said Morrison impressed the entire board.

“He’s approachable, very easy to talk to and he’s very knowledgeable,” he said. “You would think he’s an older person.”

Since Morrison joined the authority in 2011, Richardson said he’s “even more impressed.”

“He is methodical, he’s polite, he interacts with us very well and interacts with others well,” Richardson said. “We are very fortunate to have landed him.”

Earlier this year, Morrison took on another role while retaining his position with the authority.

During the city’s budget cycle, the Macon City Council approved a memorandum of understanding with the authority that combined the position of assistant director of the Economic and Community Development Department and the executive director of the authority “with the purpose of creating operational efficiencies,” Morrison said.

Some of the major functions of the ECD is to run the Community Development Block Grant and the HOME programs, which attempt to improve housing in the city, he said.

The ECD also promotes job growth and funds some public service and outreach programs.

Morrison said one of the challenges he faces is convincing some people that Macon is moving forward.

“What we often scratch our heads about is how hard it is for people to see all the good that is happening even when it’s in black and white,” he said. “When you see the new businesses, see properties being developed and run up against people who don’t believe it or don’t want to be part of it, that’s frustrating. I hope we are getting to that point where people can’t ignore it anymore.”

He sees his role as focused on improving Macon, no matter which hat he may be wearing at any particular time.

“My favorite part of the job is knowing that every day I go to work it’s to try and make the place I call home a better place,” he said. “It may sound hokey, but it’s true. I get to work with people who share that vision. I get to work with people who want to ... be a part of what we see as an up-and-coming community. I get to work with people on rehabbing these gorgeous buildings and to work with people who have a long-term vision of where we see this community going. ... It’s just a joy to know I get to play a role in that.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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