Centennial Celebration Column

Centennial Celebration Column

Excerpted from Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce history.

Banker Ray McRae, First National Bank, has been one of Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s most industrious industry recruiters.

When he was leading the chamber board in 1969, he got a call from General Louis Truman, head of the then-Georgia Department of Industry and Trade. Truman had been on a flight from Atlanta to Chicago and happened to sit next to William Hagenah, a Wrigley’s chewing gum executive. Hagenah told Truman he wanted help locating a plant in Georgia. He had been flying the outskirts of Atlanta and noticed this large body of water, which was Lake Lanier. Hagenah had lived on Lake Michigan.

Truman contacted McRae, and wheels began to turn. The chewing gum plant had to have rail, a good labor market and be located within an hour’s drive of the Atlanta airport. They found the potential site off Interstate 985 near Flowery Branch. Wrigley’s, however, had doubts about the labor force. McRae drove the company’s executives through Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s parking lot, pointing out the variety of car tags from outside Hall County. “I showed them people were willing to come to Hall County to shop and for medical treatment,” McRae recalled. “That was the heaviest factor in Wrigley’s decision.”

From that time on, McRae would ride industry prospects through local parking lots to demonstrate that Hall County’s was a mobile population.

One obstacle remained to Wrigley’s location, however. A large ravine separated the site from the railroad. McRae, county commissioners, railroad executives and a contractor walked the gulley and came up with a plan to overcome the problem.

Wrigley’s had an immediate economic impact on the county and became an extraordinary beneficial corporate citizen, McRae said.

When Wrigley’s opened, McRae and other dignitaries received a special commemorative pack of chewing gum. When McRae returned to his banking office, he placed the gum on his desk, planning to later frame it or otherwise preserve it among his many other memorabilia. But when he stepped out of his office, a fellow bank employee spotted the package of gum on his desk and helped himself to a stick.

Years later, when Wrigley’s celebrated an expansion, the company’s executives presented McRae with another commemorative pack of gum from the original ribbon-cutting.

Others might say more, but McRae said he “had a finger in about six or seven plants.” He said success in attracting industry could be attributed to the overall attitude of people, firm support from the newspaper and absence of opposition to new industries. He credited former chamber leaders John Davis and Charles Thurmond with teaching him the importance of personal contact with industry prospects.

NOTE: Johnny Vardeman is a former editor of the Gainesville Times. As part of the Centennial Celebration, Business Link will feature excerpts from Vardeman’s Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce History.