By Diane Ballard
Would it be a stretch to credit the revitalization of downtown Crossville, Tenn., to the UT Knoxville business college?
Yes, it would. But the college lit a fire under Tonya Hinch (Knoxville ’85), a Crossville native who, after a short and sweet career in New York, has returned to reinvigorate her languishing hometown. The College of Business Administration didn’t teach her everything she knows, but she feels so strongly indebted to professors Dick Reizenstein, Ernie Cadotte and Bob Woodruff that she claims she would “scrub their toilets any time.”
They’d have to get on her calendar, though, which is booked up with fundraisers, celebrations, downtown walking tours, her job as principal of Don Hinch & Associates, and other business interests.
Hinch’s life plan was to make her mark in New York and retire at age 40. She did just that, leaving her job as executive vice president of Edison Schools at the beginning of her fourth decade. Also in her rearview mirror were executive positions with Procter & Gamble, Neutrogena and Clairol. What she didn’t foresee was her father falling ill. Hinch came home to Crossville to help during his final months. She says her primary job was driving him around.
“He loved Crossville and did everything he could to promote it. We visited all the civic clubs, all the businesses. I took him everywhere he wanted to go.” If it hadn’t been for getting reacquainted with her hometown, Hinch says she probably would not have moved back.
She has made it her mission to revitalize downtown. In 2006, she and two other community-minded women, Corey Legare and Carolyn Jozwiak, started Downtown Crossville Inc. and set to work. With evangelical zeal and a proven track record in marketing, Hinch has worked all the angles. Not even Wal-Mart, often demonized for desiccating small businesses, has escaped Hinch’s entreaties on behalf of downtown (yes, Wal-Mart chipped in). With a cadre of 200 volunteers and a progressive city administration, Crossville’s downtown vacancy rate plummeted from 45 percent to 10 percent. Infrastructure improvements are under way. There’s a handsome new downtown library, a new amphitheater and an arts center in what used to be a decaying warehouse. The old railroad depot shines as a visitor center, and Hinch lives in a chic downtown home fashioned from a rundown old structure.
Hinch’s enthusiasm for her hometown elicits admiration from fellow Crossvillians. Mayor J. H. Graham III (Knoxville ’70) appreciates “Tonya’s ability and pride in working toward making Crossville a better place to live.”
Hinch admits not everyone shares her devotion to downtown. “Some people think it’s better to build a new strip mall,” she laments. As she sees it, the advantages of making downtown more vibrant are threefold — it’s good for economic development, enhances quality of life and preserves Crossville’s heritage.
Bottom line — Hinch just loves Crossville. “This is my home. Reviving downtown is personal for me.” Her abilities are well suited to the task. And, she smiles, it doesn’t hurt that she won’t take no for an answer.