Chamber of Commerce talks details of ‘renewed focus’ on membership

Published 9:05 am Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Last weekend’s Christmas parade was the last one the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce will host, and Executive Director Tonya Stevens said there is still a lot about the decision the public has not come to terms with just yet.

“A lot of people do not realize we are not a government agency,” Stevens said. “We are a private non-profit.”

The decision to cut the parade and the covered bridge festival from their agenda, she said, came after trying to determine how best to serve the community as a whole.

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“We looked at how we can better serve our membership,” she said.

After looking at neighboring communities, whose chambers of commerce do not typically organize these events themselves, she said they wanted to refocus their priorities and resources, turning more of their attention to events and projects that would better serve local businesses, including an upcoming women’s Leadership Conference in the spring and events focusing on specific aspects of businesses, including stress-management and human resources.

“If our businesses are growing, that helps our community,” Stevens said. “That will allow our resources to go towards those kind of events.”

These resources, she said, are mostly personnel and time; the annual membership fees, she said, go towards monthly programming, operational costs and specific costs like the venues for certain events, such as legislative breakfasts. Everything else typically uses up time and personnel, the latter of whom are volunteers from their membership.

She said the parade and covered bridge festival, apart from sponsors, do not typically pull from these membership fees anyway.

“We are more than a festival or parade planner,” she said. She said the festival takes 10 to 12 months to organize each year, and they get calls about the Christmas parade starting as early as July.

“We could be taking that time to organize several member-related events we have not been able to do in the past,” she said.

The decision has received negative reception from much of the community, which Stevens said has been disappointing because they were not ready to go public with the information at the time. She said they were still working out some of the details.

“We did not want anyone to think anything was going to be tossed to the side,” she said. “We did not get the chance to share this in the way the board wanted to share it.”

She also said they are looking at “reworking” some of their monthly membership networking to make it more beneficial.

Members of the community looking to get more information about the decision or the chamber’s future plans can contact them at 423-547-3850 or by visiting them at 500 Veterans Memorial Parkway in Elizabethton.

“We hope they respect our decision,” Stevens said. “We are certain these events are not going away. […] We want to do what is best for the community.”