By Erik Walsh
The News Staff
ATHENS–There’s a new leader at the helm at the Athens Chamber of Commerce; and he sees a bright future with endless possibilities on the horizon for Athens and the Region.
Mark Rathe officially began his tenure as the chamber president June 3, and after a month, he has been busy instilling his vision of Athens to the community and its businesses.
Everybody knows Athens is already a beautiful place to live, work and play, and the region has all the building blocks to become an even greater regional financial center and hub.
“If you look at what we have in this region, it’s an incredible place. It’s on the cusp of outstanding growth,” he told The News.
Gesturing and counting off on his fingers, he counts the reasons.
“We have an airport with room to grow, a loop with tremendous development potential – how many cities our size have a loop? We have the beautiful regional lakes nearby and close proximity to Dallas, Tyler, Houston, Central and East Texas is a plus. There is also Texas Freshwater Fisheries and the East Texas Arboretum.”
One meeting with Rathe made it obvious why he was chosen by the Athens Chamber board to be its leader. The man brings a passion to his position with a clear vision and road map to get there. According to Rathe, the best way to get moving in the right direction is for everybody to be on the same page and working together. It shouldn’t be surprising that he explains this vision though imagery.
“You ever see a picture of Amish farmers working a field?” He asks. “There are many oxen working together to pull the farm equipment. With just one, that yoke isn’t going anywhere, but when they all work together, the job gets done.”
One of the things that attracted Rathe to the Athens Chamber post after he came here for an interview was the close proximity the chamber office is to other city organizations. The chamber shares an office in the Athens Partnership Center with the Athens Economic Development Corporation, the Small Business Development Center, Keep Athens Beautiful and the Department of Tourism.
“Just being so close to each other lends to collaboration,” he said.
Before taking the job in Athens, Rathe lived and worked in Tulsa, Okla. running the state Chamber of Commerce regional office for nine years. He met his wife, Alice, a native Texan while they both attended Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. They raised two boys, Andrew and Tyler, who are both attending the University of Oklahoma.
Now with parents aging, he and Alice decided relocation was important to be closer to family. His father lives in Houston and mother-in-law lives in Waco.
“I made it to Houston for Father’s Day for the first time since my college years,” he said. “Living in Athens makes the trip possible. I also made it to Waco for the wheat harvest at the farm a few weeks ago.”
“Athens is extremely convenient and central to Waco, Houston and Tulsa,” he said.
You can find Rathe hard at work in the Chamber office every day. The number is 903-675-5181.