Collaboration and relationship-building were the themes as community members gathered Thursday for the monthly Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
Jerry Sue Thornton, a Murray State University regent and president emeritus of Cuyahoga Community College in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, spoke at the Power in Partnership breakfast in the Julian Carroll Convention Center. Thornton a Kentucky native, earned bachelor and master's degrees from Murray State University and a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. She also worked to develop the community college concept on the international level.
She spoke about the importance of fostering businesses in the area, while continuing the focus on the recruitment of new and innovative enterprises. Thornton emphasized the interconnected nature of a community - as the business sector thrives education, health care, philanthropy and other ventures will also succeed.
"When businesses in Paducah and McCracken County work together, their gain is the gain of the entire community," she said. "Learning to play together in the sandbox makes all the difference."
Thornton addressed the increasing challenges to a community's growth, including decreases in financial resources, population loss and technical advancements that strain already tight budgets. She said the keys to surviving and prospering through difficult times are building partnerships and collaborating to develop new ideas.
She used the comparison of previous Chicago Bulls basketball teams with Michael Jordan. In the early years of the star's career, although Jordan excelled, the impressive statistics didn't translate to wins. But when skilled players were added and a quality team was built around him, Jordan recorded jaw-dropping numbers and the team won six championships.
"A team helps you win: in sports, in business and in the community ... a superstar can't win alone," she said.
Thornton referenced successful local partnerships based on the strengths of each party, such as Paducah Bank and Computer Services Inc., and the groups that came together to build the new Murray State campus in Paducah. She listed the keys of purposeful and equal collaboration as establishing long-term goals, creating a game plan with defined roles, and clarifying the methods for making decisions and resolving disputes.
"The stakes are high and the challenges are strong so we have to bond together to keep the community strong, sustainable and vital," she said.
The meeting also featured a recognition of Black History Month and 2014 chairwoman Deborah Edmonds as the first African American leader of the board. Thornton emphasized the month as a time to reflect on those who led the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King Jr., as well as those they brought together in support of equality. King's 1964 Nobel Peace Prize was based on inclusion and brotherly love, she said.
"Black History Month is not just abut the black heroes but about the partnerships that allowed them to be successful," she said.
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.