Tommy Lassman Gets the Jump on Jackson County Business

Early RiserTommy Lassman gets the jump on Jackson County business    By Diane Hirth

It used to drive me crazy," Tommy Lassmann recalled of his father’s insistence on getting the family to church way before services started. Now, getting a jump on the day is habit. Predawn is perfect for Lassmann’s beloved stalking of the wild turkey. And it is the time of day when this 37-year-old banker shows his determination to capture business in the place he’s called home since fourth grade.

You have to be wily to hunt turkey in the piney woods of the Panhandle. Bagging businesses in Jackson County is just as challenging. Lassmann likes to be awake by 4:50 a.m., pulling his gray 2001 Chevy pickup into the parking lot of Superior Bank of Marianna up to an hour before the doors open.

"You’ve got to do a great job, to talk to our customers and say, ‘Where are you and how can we help?’ " said Lassmann, the bank’s vice president. "Or with a competitor’s customer, ‘Is your bank taking care of you?’ "
Despite the slumping economy, his bank has been making commercial loans in Jackson and surrounding counties. "We’re taking it as a real opportunity."

The man who served as Jackson County Chamber of Commerce president in 2008 is so confident of the future that he can’t imagine moving his wife Lori and young children, Georgia and Garrett, anywhere else. "It’s a community with a small community feel but big opportunities, a community that looks out for each other," Lassmann said. "I want my children to grow up in a real family atmosphere."

This commercial banker sells Jackson County’s access to rail, ports in Panama City and Port St. Joe, the new international airport underway in Panama City, and Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Bases. Businesses are inquisitive about the local schools, including Chipola College and Baptist College of Florida, and local hospital. And he points to the outdoor opportunities, fishing, hunting and beautiful beaches just down the road.
That combination has hauled in a very big fish. Green Circle Bio Energy Inc. began running what it calls the world’s largest wood pellet plant in May 2008 in Cottondale, investing $110 million in a part of Florida that is unknown territory to most foreigners.

"You’ve got to sell yourself as where that business wants to be next," said Lassmann.

Landing Green Circle Bio Energy is more impressive when one considers the challenge of overcoming the 2,000 jobs lost in Jackson County since the 1990s. Three large manufacturers — Lehigh Furniture, textile maker Russell Corporation, and industrial laundry equipment company UniMac — folded or went overseas.

Lassmann’s thumbprint on the future came when he put together Leadership Jackson County and participated in its first class, which studied all aspects of the community, including education, health, business, tourism and law enforcement. It was another banker’s idea, but Lassmann heaved his shoulders behind it and made it happen, according to Art Kimbrough, president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.
Lassmann threw a wine tasting and art auction to support the 1895-era Colonial-Revival Russ House that the Chamber restored to its former glory and set up a foundation to keep maintaining it. "Part of being able to grow and prosper is to keep your roots. But we don’t want to stand in the way of prosperity," said Lassman. "We’re the perfect balance between the old and the new."