If we could create a community that lets people thrive, prosper, and grow with safe streets, better schools, and improved infrastructure, along with economic growth, prosperity, and a better quality of life for decades to come, would you want to be a part of that vision for our community?
For me, the answer to this question began fifty-four years ago just thirty miles up the road in the small rural town of Dyer, Tennessee. As a young boy, nothing excited me more than Saturday night when my family would load up in our white Ford Galaxie 500 and drive south to the big city of Jackson. Back then, the trip took an hour on a two-lane road through Trenton, Fruitland, Humboldt, and Three Way to reach the promised land for a small-town kid: retail stores, restaurants, downtown, and action all around.
It was here in West Tennessee that my life, purpose, and public service were all shaped. My dad was an electrician, and my mother worked at the Register of Deeds office in Gibson County. They instilled a hard work ethic in me at an early age. My dad struggled with reading his entire life due to a learning disability, and I saw firsthand why learning to read at an early age is the foundation of our economic success and workforce development. He fought and overcame these challenges to start our family’s HVAC business before going into commercial real estate development and even becoming a private pilot. The things that allowed him to succeed in that small town of Dyer are no different than what’s needed in Jackson today.
Our town had safe streets and neighborhoods where kids could be kids; the best school a small rural town could have, where we learned reading, writing, and arithmetic; and streets, storm water drains, and sewer lines that were not crumbing and decaying. Those are foundational needs for every community.
After graduating from Gibson County High School, I became the first of our family to graduate college from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 1987. I have been married to Valerie for twenty-seven years and am the father of three children who all graduated from Madison Academic Magnet High School and are doing great. Due to the quality education they received at Madison, they went to three of the finest colleges in our county; Foster graduated from Birmingham Southern College, Mary Parker from Southern Methodist University, and Wells is currently at the United States Naval Academy and plans to fly fighter jets.
In 1996, Valerie and I were living and working in Auburn, Alabama, and were at a crossroads in our lives. As a real estate appraiser, I was looking to start my own business, and we could have gone anywhere in the United States. We researched areas across the county and looked at the services our business could provide as well as the opportunity to grow and raise a family in an area that provided a great quality of life.
We chose Jackson, and while we tend to forget that people have choices of where they are going to locate and assume they will come here, that’s just not true. We have to foster an environment that allows for a good product to flourish, and people will come.
For twenty-three years, I have been a businessman in this community with multiple businesses. We worked hard and made it through the lean times of the real estate meltdown in 2008. We tightened our belt just like any business that survived, and we have to do that in our city right now. I was honored to serve as the former chairman of the Madison County Commission, as well as the former chairman of the Madison County Republican Party. My business background and years of experience in fixing and turning projects around have specifically prepared me for this time and place in our city.
I have listened to different voices across Jackson, and I have heard their call for a renewed vision and energy in the mayor’s office. I look forward to using my experience as a businessman, and in public service, to build on the already—great strengths of our community as we move Jackson forward. Our community has problems with safety and its perception in our neighborhoods and school system. There are struggles in workforce development and a crumbling infrastructure, which has led to divisiveness, apathy, and skepticism. We are at a tipping point that will impact us for decades to come, and that’s why this election is so important. I believe it’s just plain wrong for our city not to prosper and grow, continuing on with business as usual.
This is not going to be easy, but if we work together and apply common sense business approaches to the management of our city, we will have safe streets, better schools, and improved infrastructure, along with economic growth and prosperity. Just like any business, we must assess, prioritize, and execute. We have to embrace technology, healthy lifestyles, and emotional connectivity. We also have to encourage co-creators in our community to come alongside us. This will be the difference between good and great, functional and engaging, and leaving and staying for the next generation.
To learn more about Mark Johnstone, visit his website.