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Chamber President Outlines Plans for Coming Year

McCreary County Chamber of Commerce President, Suzie Strunk Thompson, answers questions from The Voice

img_2712QUESTION:  As the new President of McCreary County Chamber of Commerce, what are your goals, in order of importance, for the coming year?

My main goal is to work with other organizations to formulate a plan for our County.  We have the spokes of the wheel, but cannot seem to get it to turn.  I want to change that.  I want the Chamber to be the leadership hub for McCreary County.  We need bold leadership that isn’t afraid to address the hard questions that must be answered in order to move McCreary County forward. As citizens, we’ve sat idle for many years, waiting on others to answer these tough questions.  It’s time that we stop waiting and take action.

QUESTION:  A Chamber of Commerce generally consists of business people.  What changes need to be made to attract more businesses to the Chamber?  Why do you think members are reluctant to join?

I think there has been a reluctance to join the Chamber because people didn’t feel like they were seeing a return on their investment.  The Chamber is an active organization of business professionals, and we’re working hard to change that persona.

Joining the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce means you are joining the collective voice of community-minded McCreary County.  You’re increasing your visibility in the community (ribbon cutting ceremonies for new businesses, business after-hours events, highlights on our social media page, and through e-mail).  Promotion and publicity are our priorities.  Our Chamber luncheons and events offer numerous networking opportunities to connect with fellow business owners and community leaders.  These important business contacts provide more opportunity for your business or organization.  Our Chamber events and programs provide our members with great opportunities to meet potential customers, clients, and to generate new leads.

Please remember, in order to reap the benefits of the Chamber, just paying your dues isn’t enough.  You must also invest your time and effort in Chamber activities and be involved.  You get out of your Chamber membership what you put in.

QUESTION:   What benefit is the Chamber to the business community?  What are three things the Chamber does to benefit the community?                                                                                                                                       Your investment in the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce allows the Chamber to promote what makes McCreary County unique- as a great place to live, work, and do business.  We’re dedicated to seeing McCreary County prosper.

The Chamber understands that business success and community success are directly related.  We’re working to meet the needs of our local business community.  One project we’re working on is our “Buy Chamber” program-we’re encouraging our citizens to think local before making a purchase.  This keeps folks shopping in our stores, tax dollars in our community, jobs for our friends and neighbors, and local businesses thriving.

The Chamber supports business and community success at a regional and state level, as well.  We’re knowledgeable of our workforce, local economy, and how those effect quality of life.  The Chamber has taken on the “Work-Ready Community” project.  This is a huge undertaking and will go far beyond just a few days of work.  This project requires a commitment from our business community, school district, government agencies, and citizens.  The Work-Ready Community designation would move McCreary County to the forefront of industries looking for a skilled workforce.  We’re excited to take this project on and see the benefit it has to McCreary County.

QUESTION:   Looking ahead, what long term goals does the Chamber have to attract new businesses and assist current businesses?

As I mentioned, we’re passionate about the Work-Ready Community project.  We feel like, in order for McCreary County to be competitive, we must have a skilled workforce.  By having the Work Ready Community certification, McCreary County will have the competitive edge when a business is looking to locate or expand.  The Work-Ready Community certification sets standards in six areas.  We’re working with our partners at the regional level on this and will be calling on local businesses and organizations for their partnership.

The Chamber assists our local businesses by offering knowledgeable speakers and programs.  Our programs are informative and the speakers are people you want to get to know; folks that are great to have on your networking team.

Your Chamber Board of Directors are knowledgeable in their respective professions; banking, finance, insurance, small business, and education.  We are the most valuable resource the Chamber offers.  We’re available and ready to assist our members with their needs.  We also have partnerships with the Small Business Development Center, Lake Cumberland Area Development District, KY Highlands Investment Corp., SE KY Economic Development, and others that are ready to assist when needed.

At some point, we as a County, have to look toward  the future and make decisions regarding fostering a business-friendly environment.  Issues such as a County-wide smoking ban, mandatory garbage service, business permit ordinance, and dilapidated building ordinance all have to be addressed.  These are all tough decisions, and we must press our leaders to make the right decisions.  We have to protect business investments and improve quality of life.

QUESTION:  What is the Chamber’s position on the proposed restaurant tax?  If passed, how do you think the tax should be spent?

The restaurant tax is necessary to jumpstart Tourism efforts in McCreary County. During Thursday’s Fiscal Court meeting, I listened as County Attorney Conley Chaney explained the legality of the Restaurant tax to the Court and advised them on the proper structure of how the tax should be dispersed.

It’s now up to our Magistrates to make an informed decision and be certain the restaurant tax ordinance is written strongly enough that the legality cannot be questioned. It’s also up to our food service owners and citizens to inform our Fiscal Court of their thoughts about the tax.

Before this is implemented and we as citizens are asked to fully support it, a plan offering full disclosure of how this will be spent is necessary.  The Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Commission, I’m sure, would work to help the court properly plan for its use.

QUESTION:  How beneficial do you think an experienced and qualified Economic Development Director would be to growth of McCreary County and would the Chamber support the hiring of such a person?  If so, what qualifications should an Economic Development Director have? 

The Chamber would definitely support the hiring of an Economic Development Director. It is vitally important to have someone on the front-lines, being a point of contact for our existing businesses and other businesses looking to locate here.   I challenge our government officials to develop clear goals for the position and follow up on the execution of those goals.

If I were hiring for the position, I would title the job, “Community and Economic Development Director.” I mentioned earlier that business success and community success are directly related. This position would be committed to ensuring the growth and prosperity of McCreary County.

Aside from educational requirements, an Economic Development Director should first have the ability to build relationships. The ability to work with others and communicate effectively, building key relationships and partnerships, especially in our small town, would be very beneficial in spurring community and economic development.   Far above the technical aspect of the position, the ability to collaborate with a team of people to accomplish a goal is critical.

The person hired would need to be knowledgeable of the adversities McCreary County faces and would be goal-oriented and creative in helping overcome those adversities.  He/she should be a professional who holds service, planning and results at high regard.   I think to be successful as the Community and Economic Development Director, the candidate would have to be an “out of the box” thinker.

We have to focus on supporting our existing businesses first, help them profit, and make money.  Then, we will be more successful when we go to recruit outside business.

QUESTION:  What are your thoughts on the current business and industrial climate of McCreary County?  What are possible solutions?

Changing the economic climate of our county is something that extends well beyond the Chamber. Chamber members, non-chamber members, government, and private citizens must all coordinate planning to improve the economic climate here on all scales. We have to better educate the workforce we have. We must make others know that we have the workforce and opportunity, but we must also leverage our reasons to create an environment all are comfortable investing in. That doesn’t occur right now. The Chamber and our citizens should take a lead in looking at communities around us to see what they have done from a regulatory standpoint or standpoint of leveraging resources to create a community that people want to invest in. Mere recruitment of industry is not enough. We have to compete within our region and offer the same level of protections for investment that other communities offer. Only then can we compete in this region and see the development we have hoped to see. Last week, I set forth my first challenge to our local government leaders to begin these type of discussions. I invite others from throughout our county to join us in addressing this issue.

QUESTION:  Do you think the Chamber can make a difference?

Yes, I absolutely believe the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce is already making a difference and will continue to do so.  As this year’s President, I have developed a strategic plan of action, and I am challenging our members, non-members, citizens, business owners, and government officials to join with me in executing this plan.

I want to instill the sense of “CommUNITY” in our County.  There needs to be a collaborative effort between the Chamber and every other entity within our County, including our citizens, to formulate a long-range working plan on what needs to happen to ensure McCreary County’s future success.

QUESTION:  You mentioned your strategic plan of action.  Can you summarize and share all points of that plan of action? 

Membership Growth-Increase awareness of the Chamber and its benefits and services.

Membership Development-Continue to host networking and educational events to further equip our businesses to capitalize on opportunities within our region and State.

Economic Development-Retaining local businesses and focusing on growing our local economy from within.

Workforce Development-The Chamber will serve as the hub by assisting in developing a workforce that can meet the needs of existing and future businesses.

Advocacy- Creating an environment that focuses on business and community growth.

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