TCED Alumni Highlight: Dennis Tumlin

Dennis Tumlin

Dennis Tumlin, TCEcD

Anyone who knows Dennis Tumlin, which is just about everyone in Tennessee economic development, can attest to how the air crackles with energy when he walks into the room.  He claims he was born with it, even preceding his sixteen caffeine-fueled years as a top salesperson for the Coca-Cola corporation.

In the prime of his award-winning sales career, he began to yearn for a more purpose-driven, soul-fulfilling profession.  To the undeniable benefit of the communities he tirelessly serves, he turned to economic development and never looked back.  Dennis served as the Rhea County Economic Development Director for seven years, and in August 2019 was named Chief Customer Officer for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

When asked about his life philosophy, Dennis doesn’t hesitate: “Building relationships.”  It drives his career choices, goal execution, and to some extent his life.  Nowhere is this more evident than his current prestigious position where he is the steward of relationships between the top six tourism communities and the State of Tennessee.  He makes sure that each of the top tourism entities are connected, supported, and aligned with the tourism strategies of the region and state.  He also serves as a special projects coordinator for the department by supporting and connecting prospective developers with key players within the state in hopes of landing attractions and bringing in tourist dollars.  One such example would be the Great Wolf Lodge project that has announced intentions to build a 150-million-dollar resort style waterpark with 450 rooms in Jackson, TN.  This project is expected to break ground in 2022 and attract 500,000 visitors per year to west TN while contributing millions in annual state and local sales tax & local lodging tax.

During his tenure at Rhea County, his team landed the Nokian Tire project, a 360-million-dollar plant which brought 400 jobs, the largest foreign direct investment in Rhea County’s history.  He also created the “Fish Dayton” brand and rebranded Rhea County as a sports tourism destination, capitalizing on the natural asset of Lake Chickamauga, attracting more than ten thousand anglers a year to this at-risk community.

Dennis earned his designation as a  Tennessee Certified Economic Developer (TCEcD) in 2018, and hails the economic development finance courses as vital to his business success.  He has also served the TCED program as a mentor and faculty member.  He credits the TCED program, directed by the UT Center for Industrial Services, with helping him build his own professional network and gives back by helping participants expand their own networks.  Jennifer Perryman, a fall 2021 program graduate, selected Dennis as her mentor after meeting him as an instructor in the Tennessee Basic Economic Development Course.  She asserts that Dennis challenged her to look at fishing tournaments as an economic driver for her county.  “He provided insight and a wealth of knowledge on the impact of fishing tournaments on a host community. If you have ever met Dennis, you know his energy is contagious, even at four in the morning working a tournament.  He is dedicated to helping communities and is generous with his expertise on creating a fishing destination.”

Under Dennis’s guidance, Jennifer and her county colleagues went on to produce the first large scale national fishing tournament in Hardin County.

Dennis is known as a mover and shaker but is quick to credit teamwork and good leadership as vital to career successes.  True to his commitment to relationship building, he quickly affirms that economic development is a team sport and revels in group successes, even when he is the appointed quarterback.

Living by the mantra “always do the right thing,” Dennis has a passion for rural communities and improving quality of life for residents.  “When things got tough during the Nokian project, I was driven by the thought of my aunt, making $10.25 an hour after 25 years as a supervisor in a local manufacturing plant.  She thought she could do no better.  I knew she could if she had the right opportunity.”

Leaving the Coca-Cola corporation so many years ago for the endless hours of work in community improvement must have been a tough decision.  But one thing is obvious to all who know or have worked with Dennis.  The economic development community got “the real thing.”


Tags Economic Development