Tim Evans could channel his talents to more lucrative ends — in real estate or consulting, for example — but the relationships he has built over the years as a leading economic developer in Hall County are worth more to him than gold.
He has served as the vice president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce for the last 16 years, and he was recently awarded the highest honor for economic development in the state — the Georgia Economic Development Association’s Rip Wiley Award for Professional Excellence.
When asked why he was chosen among the hundreds of other candidates, he noted his preference for collaboration over competition.
“We’re not a competitor among the other counties in the region as much as we work together,” Evans said. “If there's something I can do to help the new person in the county next door, make their life a little easier and save them some time on the learning curve, then, hey, we're both better off for it.”
The youngest of four, Evans grew up in the small town of Jefferson but spent much of his youth in Gainesville, which felt like a big city by comparison.
“You couldn't get in trouble in Jefferson without someone calling your mother,” he said. “It was that small, so we would come over here to Gainesville and go cruising.”
After graduating from Jackson County High School, he attended Oglethorpe University, a liberal arts college in Atlanta. He initially pursued a degree in engineering but soon realized he didn’t have the personality for it.
“I’m a people person,” he said. “I wanted to go out with my friends, and I wanted to do some things with the student government and the programming board. Nobody in that engineering program was doing any of that.”
He played tennis in college and became involved in student government. He also served as the chair of the programming board, in charge of planning concerts, parties and events. He switched majors and earned a bachelor’s in economics and political studies. He later earned his master’s in business from the University of Georgia.
At Oglethorpe, he interned with the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism, now known as Georgia Department of Economic Development, and later took a full-time job for the department, marking the beginning of a 27-year career in economic development. He worked under his now mentor Jim Steed, who presented Evans with the award. Steed worked under Rip Wiley in whose name the award was created after his passing in 1978.
Evans was influenced in college by such classical economics texts as Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, but he found out that economic development is more about understanding people than it is about understanding economic theory.
Evans said that most everyone in economic development has an “oh, wow” moment where they realize that their work has a positive impact on everyday working people. He had such a moment some 25 years ago when he finished working with a textile company in LaFayette, where the unemployment rate was around 13% at the time. He visited the facility and saw a man filling out a job application, accompanied by his wife and their young daughter.
“I was like, ‘This guy's here to get a job from this project that I just finished working on. He's looking to put bread on the table for his family,’” Evans recalled. “It was where I saw that this isn't just a job. You're not going to get rich doing this. You got to love what you do, and when you realize that what you're doing has an impact, it makes it more valuable personally.”
Working with a company as an economic developer, he said, is rather like being a real estate agent who assists someone in shopping for a home, except at a higher level, Evans said. The agent helps the home buyer find a house and location that checks off their list of wants but also fits within their budget.
“The site location process for a lot of industries and businesses is very much the same process,” Evans said. “Instead of the list being 20 items, though, there might be 100 because they need a workforce, and they need proximity to customers and suppliers.”
Evans remembers when he first began learning about economic development and someone asked him, “What’s a lot of money to you?” As a recent college graduate, $20,000 seemed like quite a lot of money at the time. But he soon discovered that as an economic developer, he would need to think in much larger terms in managing projects that cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
“That was kind of outside my realm of comprehension as a young, recent undergraduate, to work on a $400 million project,” he said. “But before I knew it, that's exactly what I was doing. I was working on massive capital investments across Georgia.”
Evans worked with Georgia businesses but also traveled internationally to Italy, Germany, Korea and Japan. The travel began to wear on him, though, and he decided to settle down, taking a job in 2005 at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce after a dinner at Rudolph’s (now Mellow Mushroom) with chamber president Kit Dunlap.
In his free time, Evans spends time with his 9-year-old son mountain biking, playing basketball and doing archery.
“Pretty much whatever my 9-year-old wants to do, I’m at it,” he said.