Annual meeting celebrates winners, listens to ‘Dr. Doom’

University of Tennessee economist Matt Murray knows how to make an entrance.

When outgoing Blount County Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Teri Brahams introduced Murray as master of ceremonies for the 89th Blount County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, she referenced his penchant for making negative economic predictions.

“When Matt Murray speaks, people listen. His research explores the intersection between public policy and the private sector,” she said. “Help me welcome Matt Murray, also known as ‘Dr. Doom.’”

Murray strolled into the room in a black robe and hood, carrying a scythe.

“Cut budgets, cut payrolls and do it now,” he said as the crowd laughed.

Murray, sans the robe, told the 450 chamber members and business people gathered at the meeting that he expected the economy to continue its current downward trend for the next few months. It may begin to turn around in the third quarter of the year, he said.

“We do expect the economy to turn around the middle of the year,” Murray said, adding that businesses will go through tough times. Businesses primed for growth, however, will grow again, he said. “It’s going to be critical for us to be mindful of each other and support businesses within the community.

“Recessions come and go. This one will come and go.”

Murray recognized the Blount Chamber ambassadors, a group of volunteers who work with the 1,350 chamber members. Mainstay Suites general manager Portia McKee was recognized as Ambassador of the Year.

The Above and Beyond award, which goes to a chamber board member, went to Blount Today publisher Sherri Gardner Howell.

The Dean Stone Excellence in Tourism Award winner was the late Fred Waggoner, Sr., a leader in Blount County tourism efforts. The award was accepted by Waggoner’s children, Leland, Fred Jr., and Patricia Waggoner Huddleston.

The Platinum Award went to Vulcan Materials for having 50 years of membership in the Blount County Chamber of Commerce.

Murray recognized the fifth Annual Blount County Business Excellence Award winners. The awards celebrate the top companies and their achievements in employee talent/training, social responsibility, management, quality of products and services and performance. The awards program was administered by a collaboration of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Volunteers in Progress (VIP), the Blount County Economic Development Board and the Center for Strong Communities at Maryville College.

One winner was determined from the categories of Business Service, Business Manufacturing and Non-profit/Government. The final winners were evaluated to determine the overall winner.

Standard Aero Alliance won in the Manufacturing division. Blount County Schools took honors in the non-profit/ government division. Impact Associate won in the Service Category and also was awarded the overall winner.

Dr. Vergil Metts, president and CEO of Impact Associates, said his first thoughts were of the people at Impact, saying there would have been no success without their hard work. Kathy Metts, president and principle owner, said she and Vergil Metts were honored by the recognition from so many of their colleagues from the community. “It’s humbling,” she said.

Welcoming a new board chair and the induction of the new board was also part of the annual meeting. Bill Marrison, president of the Metropolitan Airport Authority and incoming board chair, praised Brahams, chair for 2008, for her service. “She has faced incredible challenges,” he said. “Teri, you’re an inspiration to us all.”

Brahams thanked the board and staff for their support during the year as she carried out her duties as chair and battled cancer.

“Last year I stood up here having just finished chemo therapy,” Brahams said. “I’m happy to tell you tonight that this is my own hair.”

Brahams recognized the annual meeting sponsors -- Alcoa, Inc., the City of Alcoa and MultiMedia Solutions -- and thanked them for their support.

Brahams also thanked the Chamber staff. “It’s been a great pleasure to work with the chamber staff, the board and the volunteers,” she said. “Through the collective efforts of the staff, board and volunteers, they addressed quality of life issues, advanced the interests of members and worked to ensure the county has a well-educated workforce,” Brahams said. “We celebrate our success and face the challenges that lie ahead. Take full advantage and reap the benefits of full chamber membership.”

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