Valdosta Mayor John Gayle has fond memories of growing up in Valdosta. His family moved to the Azalea City in 1951 and he has spent much of his life witnessing the tremendous growth and prosperity of the community.
“It is unbelievable how Valdosta has changed,” said Gayle, who became Valdosta’s mayor in 2011. “I can remember hitchhiking down Patterson Street to the movie theatre and riding my bicycle through town.”
Gayle attended Valdosta High School and then enrolled at Valdosta State College, along with his “sweetheart,” Peggy Elliott, whom he married in 1965.
“When I attended Valdosta State College there were about 750 students,” said Gayle, who earned a degree in history in 1966. “I remember taking history classes with then President Ralph Thaxton. We learned that taking classes from the president was good because he was often up in Atlanta attending Board of Regents meetings.”
A successful businessman, Gayle began his professional career at Prinsho Veneer Company, the company his father bought when his family moved to Valdosta. Under his management, the company expanded and opened offices in Tallahassee and Gainesville, Fla., and in 1979 he became a co-owner.
Later he sold the company and began working for Capitoline Products in Rome, Ga., as an independent representative. In 2005, he came back to Valdosta and opened a branch office in Valdosta known as Capitoline Metro. In 2009, he sold the branch office and retired.
Gayle’s love for Valdosta inspired him to run for mayor and serve the community. He is also a staunch advocate for his alma mater and understands the importance of having Valdosta State University within the community.
“We look at VSU as a major, major business within the city of Valdosta,” said Gayle. “The economic impact is significant to the city, and it is right in the heart of Valdosta. Everything that goes on generates business in the city...it generates business for realtors, restaurants, and it is unbelievable what VSU does for this city.”
Today, much of the community-oriented culture and growing economy is impacted by VSU’s faculty, staff, and students.
In VSU’s 2012 economic impact report, the average student represents $6,380 to the local economy. In addition, 5,055 jobs (direct and indirect) contribute to an annual labor income of $208.7 million. The university’s total economic impact for the Valdosta Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) represents $451.2 million annually.
A recent study by CEOs for Cities identifies a direct correlation in a region’s economic growth with the educational attainment of its residents.
With more than 8,500 VSU alumni living and working in Valdosta and Lowndes County, the importance of obtaining more college graduates is essential to the region’s continued success.
“We want to create more jobs for graduates and keep them in Valdosta,” said Gayle.
When asked to assist with state funding for VSU’s new Health Sciences and Business Administration Building, Gayle joined other governmental officials and business leaders within Valdosta to lobby state legislators to support the $32 million facility.
“The Health Sciences building is going to mean so much to this community,” said Gayle. “It is going to bring in so many people from outside the area, creating a greater tax base with the number of professional jobs that it will create.”
Gayle and other community leaders appreciate the contributions made by VSU students to the community.
Last year, Valdosta State's 23 Greek organizations volunteered 23,787 hours of community service and raised $121,985 for philanthropic efforts. In addition, VSU’s Enactus (formerly Students in Free Enterprise) students contributed 13,024 hours of community services through 20 different projects that impacted approximately 30,000 children and adults within the region.
Gayle is one of Valdosta State’s greatest ambassadors and is working to produce more partnerships between the community and university.
“The great thing about VSU and the city is that we work together on so many projects,” said Gayle. “I cannot imagine this community without VSU.”