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Thornell bidding adieu to GSDP, but plans to stay active in state

In April, David Thornell resigned as president and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership (GSDP). He is the only leader the GSDP has had since its inception in April 2001.

An Alabama native, Thornell is returning to his home state, Scottsboro specifically, where he plans to work in commercial real estate, though he makes it clear that family was a deciding factor in his move.

“I am returning to my home state to the community that I served in for seven-and-a-half years prior to my seven-plus-year stint in Starkville,” Thornell says. “My wife (of 27 years), Carol, and I bought a home there back in December that is on the brow of Sand Mountain overlooking the Tennessee River, downtown Scottsboro, and more of the Appalachian foothills as far as the eye can see.

“I feel that this new direction will offer the best option for my family as we look forward to opening another chapter of our lives.”

Thornell lists some family-related reasons for the move. But, he also makes another thing clear — he is not saying “good-bye.”

Two-state man

In his resignation announcement, Thornell wrote of his future plans in Alabama. However, he revealed that he would serve as a consultant to Castle Properties of Columbus. It turns out Thornell may be moving a little down the road, but he plans on being a distant neighbor, not a visitor and certainly no stranger.

“Currently, I am studying for my real estate license exam, so that I can join the McLain Commercial Real Estate firm in Huntsville,” Thornell says. “I will specialize in commercial real estate in the booming Huntsville area and throughout North Alabama, which is an area I know very well having lived-worked in both Decatur and Scottsboro for a total of 13 years.

“I will also get my reciprocal real estate license in Mississippi and continue to assist…Mark Castleberry of Castle Properties. Mark has current projects throughout North Mississippi, including Columbus, Starkville and Tupelo. This will keep me connected to Mississippi and the many friends that I am proud to have developed here. I feel very good about my decision and look forward to continuing my work in community and economic development, but strictly from a real estate angle, which is simply a different avenue of involvement.”

In addition to his work with Castleberry, Thornell plans to do a little writing, which he enjoys. In fact, he will do some writing for the Mississippi Business Journal in the future.

Good with words

Some of his flair for writing came from his education at the University of Alabama, where he earned a B.A. in communications in 1981. (A lifelong learner, Thornell has since graduated from Economic Development Institute at the University of Oklahoma, the Institute of Organizational management at the University of Georgia and The Buckley School of Public Speaking in Camden, S.C., just to name a few. (He also holds the National Development Council’s E.D. Finance Professional designation as well as Certified Economic/Community Developer from the American Economic Development Council.)

Thornell started doing development/chamber work while still a college student. His first career stop was the North Alabama Industrial Development Association in Decatur (1982-1987), where he served as associate director. Thornell was executive director of the Opelika (Ala.) Chamber of Commerce (1987-1991), executive director of the East Alabama Economic Development Council (1992-1993) and executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Authority in Scottsboro (1993-2001) before coming to Starkville to help create the GSDP.

The Partnership is a public/private organization composed of the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority, Starkville Convention & Visitors Bureau and Starkville Area Chamber of Commerce. Pulling together these entities took communication skills, and it was Thornell who wrote the organizational outline for the Partnership, including the mission, purpose, objectives and staff structure.

The GSDP flourished under its only leader. During Thornell’s tenure, Starkville and Oktibbeha County experienced growth on a variety of fronts, including a 161% increase in the value of construction permits issued in the city, led by a 250% increase in the number of residential units built, comparing 2007 to 2002 levels.

The ad valorem tax collections in Starkville have risen by 41% since 2002, and the 2% food and beverage tax collections have increased by more than 26% over the past five years. City sales taxes collected have grown by 30%.

GSDP chairman Terry Kemp said, “On behalf of the board, we are glad to have had the opportunity to work with David in creating and implementing this new team approach to community and economic development for our County. We could not have done it without his knowledge, his dedication and hard work to bring us to where we are today.”

Thornell wrote in his resignation letter, “I am very proud of the accomplishments we can claim in the past, but I am also certain that Starkville-Oktibbeha County will continue to grow under someone new who can bring a fresh perspective. I thank everyone who has supported me and this Partnership in our success. I will count it as a wonderful experience for the rest of my life.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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