Fred Forster says he just knew it was time.
On Tuesday, the long-time CEO of the Blount Chamber Partnership announced he would retire on June 30.
“Everything is in good shape. The four organizations (Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Board, Visitors Bureau and the Chamber Foundation) are all doing well, and I’m pleased we were just rated with a Five-Star Accreditation on our chamber accreditation this past month,” he said. “I figured while things were on a good footing, it was time for me to go and do other things along the lines of working with my family and on activities in the community and spending more time with Carolyn and the grandchildren and our parents, who are getting older,” he said. “We wanted to pay attention to our family. It’s just time.”
Fred and Carolyn Forster have two daughters, Rebecca Forster and Joy Carver. Joy and son-in-law Will Carver have two children, Drew Carver, 3, and Caroline Carver, 1.
Forster has led the Blount Partnership for the past 11 years, which followed a 35-year career in the U.S. Air Force and the Tennessee Air National Guard. Forster retired as a Major General in 2003.
“It has been a wonderful 11 years working with so many positive people in this community,” Forster said. “There’s a wealth of dedication and talent here. This community works hard every day to ensure that Blount County remains the best place to live, work, and play. I appreciate the opportunity to serve in this capacity and congratulate our staff and many wonderful volunteers on a great job in all areas.”
When asked to talk about some of the accomplishments of the Chamber Partnership during his tenure, Forster began with the Chamber of Commerce.
“I was really, really proud of the fact our Chamber has continued to grow throughout the time I’ve been here,” Forster said. “We’ve added new members, paid off our mortgage on this building so that it is free and clear, and we’ve renovated the building.”
Forster said the Chamber continues to support businesses in the community. “In spite of this economic downturn, Blount County seems to be doing better than a lot of places because we have a vibrant business community strongly supported by people who live here, and that’s wonderful,” he said.
The CEO said he is very proud of the industrial board’s recruiting efforts. “Marriott Business Services came during our tenure and other businesses came and opened up. Jobs were created, and economic prosperity was created,” he said. “New retail came in. I’m not directly responsible, but it happened on our watch, and I feel our industrial board has been a part of that.”
The retired Air National Guard general said the Economic Development Board is continuing to be focused on the international, global aspects of business and industry. “We’re making sure we’re out recruiting in Europe and Asia and all the places necessary to keep a presence,” Forster said.
Forster said he is proud of our tourism efforts made during his tenure, and he praised Herb Handly, vice president of the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as the bureau board. “We were designated a Preserve America Community and not many communities get that designation,” he said of the recognition given by the federal government to communities that protect and celebrate their heritage.
“We’ve continued to grow tourism in our community and the amount of money generated by tourism continues to increase,” he said. ‘Our popularity as a tourist destination continues to grow, both among business tourists, as well as leisure tourists, and that is good.”
Forster said the Chamber Foundation has done a wonderful job of supporting 20 smaller not-for-profits in the community and helping them grow up and develop into their own 501-C-3 not-for-profits. He singled out organizations like Wilderwood Service Dogs and Patch Ministries as examples. “There have been a lot of good things going on that arena,” he said of the Chamber Foundation.
Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham praised Forster as a true patriot. “He has served his country, state and county with honor and dedication, and he has been a shining example to all of us in the courageous fight he has waged in conquering his illness,” Cunningham said. “He is just a wonderful person, a wonderful family man, and he has quietly done a lot for the community that folks don’t know a lot about. He has served in so many capacities. He will be sorely missed.”
Under Forster’s leadership a recent announcement was made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recognizing the Blount Chamber as a Five-Star Accredited Chamber, one of only two in Tennessee.
“As a relatively new member of the Blount County community, I am amazed at the number of areas Fred reached out to serve and make a difference,” Chamber Chair Doug Horn said. “For me to chair the Chamber this year and work more closely with Fred is an honor I will not forget.”
During his tenure, Forster saw the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau experienced an increase in tourism. During this past year, visitor expenditures in Blount County increased to $300 million, and the Townsend and Maryville Visitor Centers welcomed more than 160,000 visitors seeking area information.
“It has certainly been a pleasure to work with Fred the past several years,” said Visitor’s Bureau Chair Bryan Cable. “He has been a tremendous asset to this community and will be missed.”
Forster has helped pave the path for the Chamber Foundation to eventually become a Community Foundation, which is still in the works, said Sharon Hannum, chair of the Chamber Foundation. “Fred has a passion for this community, and it has shown in every aspect of his career,” said Hannum. “He is a team player and has been instrumental in making the Partnership not only successful, but establishing it as a benchmark for other chambers in the state.”
Forster has been instrumental in the Pellissippi Place research and technology park. Pellissippi Place is scheduled to be open this spring. “Fred has been nothing less than a wonderful colleague to work with in so many different capacities across the community,” said Matt Murray, chair of the Economic Development Board. “I cannot think of anyone with more integrity. He will be missed, and I hope he sustains his engagement in the affairs of our community.”
The retired general said he has enjoyed his time at the Chamber. “It has been very fulfilling for me and my family. I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve,” he said. “I’m looking forward to staying engaged in things in the community.”
A search committee will be formed, and is expected to have the position filled by July 1, 2010, said Tammi Ford, executive vice president for communications.
Forster said his best advice to his successor would be for that person to appreciate what this county offers.
“In this community, we are deep in talent and have a lot of people committed to keeping this the best place to live, work and play, so be team player and expect good things,” he said.