Getting folks to show up for their annual party isn’t a problem for the Blount County Chamber Partnership. More than 500 people turned out for the chamber’s annual meeting last Thursday. The Jan. 31 event was a time to see just how far the chamber and the community it serves has grown, with research shared by guest speaker Matt Murray.
Murray, University of Tennessee professor of economics and associate director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, also served as master of ceremonies. Murray shared different statistics to show how the county and its residents have changed in 50 years.
Murray said when the Blount Chamber was helping businesses in 1958, it had a $20,637 budget with $17,000 collected in dues. The budget for the 2008 Chamber is $770,000 and members paid $318,500 in dues, he said.
The professor said that while 128 showed for the annual Blount Chamber meeting in 1958, 510 were on hand for this annual meeting. Issues the chamber pushed 50 years ago included promoting the reactivation of the McGhee Tyson Air Base, which proved successful. “We also worked with Loudon County to build a bridge for $2.8 million,” he said of the bridge over Fort Loudon Dam.
Just as there were continued discussions about completing the Foothills Parkway in 1958, now talk is focused on promoting the completion of the Pellissippi Parkway Extension from East Broadway Avenue to East Lamar Alexander Parkway, he said.
In 1958, there were about 30 churches in Blount County. “We now have 300,” Murray said. “I don’t know if sinning has gone up, but there are more churches.”
Murray said that in 1950, the population of the county was 54,691. It now stands at about 120,000 and, by 2025, is projected to grow to 144,000. “We’re going to have growth and change with that growth,” he said.
Murray said that the next year could very well be tough for commerce nationwide. “My nickname is Dr. Doom,” he said, as he outlined the economic condition he predicts for the country. Conditions are “likely to weaken in 2008-2009. There’s no relief in sight for energy prices.”
Murray said there is active talk of a fiscal stimulus package from the federal government. The U.S. House passed legislation recently, and the U.S. Senate is considering a different version currently. “If we are going to look at a fiscal stimulus package, it needs to be soon,” he said.
Locally, however, Murray shed some of his Dr. Doom persona. He said he was optimistic about how the local economy will fare. “I think longer term, we are going to weather this storm here because we have a very diverse economy. We’ve been very fortunate in retaining manufacturing jobs.”
Murray said schools and other infrastructure must be funded to help ensure the county’s economy stays strong in the future. “Education, in my view, is so important,” he said. “It’s one of those things we can affect in our lives, in our families and in our communities.”
Outgoing Blount County Chamber chairman Carl VanHoozier talked about his tenure leading the board in 2007. “It’s been a great year. I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I’ve had a wonderful board and terrific staff.”
VanHoozier introduced Teri Brahams, executive director of Business and Community Services at Pellissippi State Technical Community College, as the new Blount County Chamber chair for 2008.
Brahams said that goals in the coming year included using a council structure on the chamber board to pull the Blount Partnership even closer. “The councils represent pieces of a puzzle that fit together to ultimately meet the overall mission of the Blount Partnership,” she said. “The work of these councils will impact us all.”
The Community Development Council will focus on environment and planned growth; the Economic and Business Development Council will focus on education, workforce development and understanding issues facing existing business and industry; the Governmental Council will continue to be the voice of business at all levels of government; the Tourism Council will address issues unique to tourism; the Communications Council and the Membership Council will continue to improve member services and add outstanding value to all 1,350 Chambers members, both large and small, Brahams said.
Brahams said she was thankful for the opportunity to lead the chamber board. “I’m very honored and humbled,” she said. “I think it’s an excellent time to be in Blount County.”
At the annual meeting, awards were presented to Clara Peals, Brenda Pilson and Donna Mitchell and a hosts of businesses.
Clara Peals, known throughout the community for her commitment to Smoky Mountain Tourism, was selected as the third recipient of the Dean Stone Excellence in Tourism Award.
The award was created and awarded by the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau to honor Stone’s excellence and devotion to Blount County’s tourism efforts for more than 40 years, and each year it will be presented to someone who made an impact in the tourism industry in Blount County.
Peals has proven her commitment to tourism in Blount County through her vast volunteer efforts and her support of the visitors bureau. She has been involved in Blount County’s media tour and the Weekend in the Smokies since its inception in 1977. Peals, along with Lois Gunther, would canvas area businesses for local gifts to present to writers and guests of the media tour. Additionally, the Townsend Visitors Center’s pavilion is named after Peals and the late Gunther for their efforts in support of the bureau.
“I met Clara before I was involved in the tourism industry in Blount County. Every year she would call me to talk about the media tour, reminding me of how important this event was for the community, and she would convince me, and many others in the community, to donate items to support this effort,” said Herb Handly, executive vice president of tourism for the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was apparent to me that Clara and Lois were tremendous assets to the visitors bureau. Today, after all this time, Clara is still working for and supporting the tourism program in Blount County, and this is just a small token of our appreciation.”
For the past 16 years, Peals has also served as a volunteer for all of the Townsend festivals. “Clara has helped the festivals in many ways. Either by working the concessions, playing the spoons, or clogging,” said Deborah Nye, special events coordinator for the SMCVB. “She has been to nearly every festival that Townsend offers, and her Peals has also been a loyal volunteer and director of the board for the Sam Houston School house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and is a Tennessee Historic Site. Peals has helped to fund raise and operate the historic schoolhouse.
Peals is a native of Tellico Plains. For the past 20 years, Peals has been an instrumental person in Blount County tourism, but she has also been involved in many other community organizations such as Republican Women, Business and Professional Women, Community Action Agency, Special Olympics, Blount County Board of Realtors, Blount County Chamber of Commerce, and Woodmen of the World. Peals also serves on the board of Everett Senior Center and served 10 years on the Tennessee Real Estate Commission state board.
Brenda Pilson won the Above and Beyond recognition for excelling as a board member of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce. Donna Mitchell of East Tennessee Luxury Homes was honored as the newest member of the chamber.
A complete list of Platinum winners -- businesses who have been members of the chamber for 50-plus years -- is on the Web site at www.BlountToday.com.