By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Dianne Baker appeared busy from greeting and organizing Millington Area Chamber of Commerce luncheons to ribbon cutting events throughout 2016.
And those close to her know the executive director of the Millington Chamber was busier behind the scenes. For her hard work in and out of the spotlight, Baker was voted The Millington Star’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Woman of the Year.
“Very humbling because I’m just trying to do the job the Chamber wants me to do,” she said. “To be recognized for the efforts is gratifying.
“I do whatever it takes — memberships, events, website, programming, keeping businesses current with information, going outside the area to enhance our area to let people know Millington is on the up and up,” Baker added. “We’re poised and ready for businesses to come. We want new development and new growth. We’re just a healthy environment right now. It’s really exciting.”
The Chamber team consists of Baker, administrative assistant Murph Carver and assistant Colleen Braithwaite. The trio has been working closely with Millington leaders helping in the recent growth seen across the city.
“We work collaboratively with the city like the Mayor and Board of Alderman and Ed Haley,” Baker noted. “We work with the Millington Industrial Development Board Charles Gulotta and his team. And whoever is coming to the table, whatever need they have.”
The Chamber is not just focused on business needs and growth. Baker said another mission is helping to build Millington Municipal Schools.
“We’re trying to elevate our schools right now and show the positive energy that’s going on in our schools right now,” she noted. “The ACT Test scores are up right now. We’re working on a mentorship program right now. We’re working very hard with all the principals and Dr. (David) Roper to make sure they know the Chamber and all the area businesses are behind them right now. We want them to succeed.”
Baker said the success of the schools will drive businesses to locate in Flag City. One way of promoting the schools is showcasing success stories like Tampa Bay Buccaneer Alan Cross. Cross graduated from Millington Central High School in 2011 and became the all-time leading tight end at The University of Memphis.
Before Cross made the roster of the Bucs, Baker and the Chamber hosted Alan Cross Day last February.
“Alan came from our town,” she noted. “Tony Dingman was the one who came to me and asked that we look into doing that. When someone from our community rises above the “norm” it’s wonderful to show our community that we all have that area we can rise to. To celebrate with him his accomplishments it’s good for business.
It’s good for the young folks to move back in,” Baker added. “Frankie Dakin, one of our aldermen, has moved back to the city of Millington. How wonderful is that? That speaks volumes for what Millington has to offer.”
Baker is a MCHS success story herself graduating from the school in 1964. She married Bob Baker and the couple returned to Millington a decade ago. Dianne got back involved in Millington through the Chamber about 5 years ago.
“We’ve had growth in individual businesses, growth in the Chamber,” she said. “We’ve had growth in our churches and in our schools. We’ve had growth in the character and in just the fiber of Millington.”
When motorists pass through Millington they can see the development along Highway 51 North. Baker said that is just one area of growth in Flag City.
“You just can’t stop and look at Highway 51,” she said. “We have so many other things that are coming to town. We have the Solar Farm — it’s going to be huge industry for our town. We have Clean Line Energy coming.”
Baker hopes those arrivals will lead to the construction of homes for people desiring to live in Millington.
“We need rooftops,” she acknowledged. “We need housing. We need availability — not starter houses. We need houses for middle income.”
The Chamber is out encouraging developers to explore Millington. Baker is also working with Southwest Tennessee Community College on projects.
“We need soft skills, labor skills as well as the degreed people,” Baker said. “Hopefully we’ll be the community to rise to that occasion. The jobs are out there not being filled.”
Baker said Millington’s educational system will help with the overall growth of Shelby County. And she will continue her behind the scenes efforts to ensure more development within the city limits.
“Charles Gulotta and I work hand and hand,” she said. “He lends guidance to me. I undergird him in whatever I can do and help. I’m excited because we just got Hardee’s today. Chains don’t join chambers. But they can see Millington as a reckoning. We just go ask and show them what we have. And they say yes. For this we are thankful.”
The Chamber has nearly 300 members now. Another sign of the Chamber’s growth is on display annually at the Ladies’ Luncheon. The event was a highlight of Baker’s 2016. The Luncheon helped the 2017 Woman of the Year put her honor in proper prospective.
“I’m just blown away because there are so many other women here,” she said. “I work with a group of women and men who are just way above norm. We started the Ladies Luncheon four years ago. This year we had 264 women at the Ladies’ Luncheon. What an honor it was to be in the presence of all those women who make a difference in the city of Millington.
“It’s not just me,” Baker concluded. “It’s everyone of us working together. I’m just thankful they chose me and thought enough of me to say thank you. This is just an honor. You don’t want to say humble, but I am. It just gives you cold chills.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.