Candace Eaton says she loves Dalton, especially downtown Dalton.
"I'm proud of my hometown," she said. "I want my children to be proud of Dalton. If they leave to go to college, I want them to want to come back. And I think having a thriving downtown will make young people who leave want to come back."
The board of the Downtown Dalton Development Authority (DDDA) in February unanimously named Eaton executive director of the authority.
The DDDA has a 2021 budget of $285,000 funded primarily by a downtown property tax. The DDDA helps downtown businesses qualify for various state and federal business incentives, operates a program that compensates businesses and property owners for part of the costs of improving the facades of their buildings, and helps businesses with any of the forms or paperwork needed to open a business downtown.
"We also do some infomercials (for local TV) that provide free advertising for our businesses," said Eaton.
The DDDA was created by the state legislature in 1981. It is governed by a six-person board whose members are elected by downtown business and property owners.
Eaton graduated from Southeast Whitfield High School in 2002, she said.
"I got an associate's degree from Dalton State College, and I got my bachelor's degree in organizational management from Covenant College (in Lookout Mountain)."
Twelve people applied to be the DDDA's executive director. Board Chairman Annalee Harlan said the board members interviewed about a half dozen of them.
"She brings a very strong financial background," said Harlan, who is also a member of the City Council, at the time. "That was what really set her apart. Let's say a new business comes to town or a local entrepreneur has an idea for a new business, and they want to locate downtown. For her to be able to talk to that person and be a resource with that financial background. Small businesses are often startups and may require a lot of support. She also has strong organizational skills."
Eaton said she started in banking during her senior year in high school.
"I started out at Dalton Whitfield Bank on Thornton Avenue as a teller," she said. "Then I did customer service. That was followed by commercial banking. I then went to Appalachian Community Bank. I wore so many hats there -- marketing, asset-based lending, so many different things."
She later went back to Dalton Whitfield Bank as an assistant branch manager.
"I worked as an assistant branch manager and branch manager," she said. "Then I went to Community & Southern Bank, which had bought Appalachian Community Bank."
Then the Great Recession hit in the late 2000s.
"I had been at Community & Southern Bank for about a year when the economy turned, and I was let go," she said. "It was last hired, first to be let go."
She took some time off, then went to work for Hamilton Health Care System, where she held a number of jobs, most recently as a compliance specialist.
The DDDA helps organize the popular Off the Rails Concert Series at the Burr Performing Arts Park downtown. The DDDA canceled the series in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eaton said with the number of new cases falling and the number of people getting vaccinated rising, organizers believe they will be able to host the series this year.
"We are planning to start as long as things stay like they are now," she said. "As long as there are no spikes (in cases), we are planning a June 4 kickoff. We know how much people want it to return."
Including the concerts, the DDDA has already issued permits for some 50 downtown events later this year.
The DDDA works closely with the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, the Dalton Innovation Accelerator (DIA), the Dalton Convention & Visitors Bureau and other organizations to promote downtown.
"We have a very close relationship with all of those groups," Eaton said.
Eaton said she is excited that she started at the DDDA shortly after Lauren Holverson became the first executive director of the DIA. Located in the Landmark Building downtown, the DIA aims to help entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground and to help small businesses grow.
"She's very smart," Eaton said of Holverson. "She's got a lot of experience and drive. I think having her is really going to benefit small businesses, not just downtown but across the city and the county."
Eaton said she's still learning about the DDDA and downtown businesses.
"I've been getting out and talking to people, introducing myself and giving them my card," she said. "I'm excited to be here. There's a lot of potential here."