Two years ago, Barbara Andersen stepped into the role of executive director of the Blount County-Oneonta Chamber of Commerce and has moved full-steam ahead ever since. The Chamber has seen substantial growth under her leadership as she continues to seamlessly blend longtime traditions with new ideas building a strong foundation for the future of both the chamber and Blount County.
“No two chambers are alike,” Andersen said. “They are all structured, staffed, and funded differently. The focus of each chamber is also unique and is customized to meet the specific needs of the community it serves.”
A chamber of commerce has been a part of Blount County since a group of Oneonta business leaders came together in the 1940s creating the Oneonta Chamber. It remained that way until 1983 when civic leader Bob Bynum, Probate Judge Frank Green, and Oneonta Mayor Jack Fendley began discussions that would eventually transform the Oneonta Chamber into a county-wide organization.
On June 29, 1983, Green, Fendley, and Bynum, the first Blount County Oneonta Chamber of Commerce president, signed incorporation papers making the transformation official.
At the time, The Blount Countian reported that Green was “obviously elated with the spirit of cooperation among the 32 countians representing the county’s municipalities and unincorporated areas.” He went on to say, “Our county will look back in years to come and praise this group for what you are about to accomplish.
“I can tell you some things that have not been done in Blount County because we have never had a unified voice. This can be one of the best things that has ever happened in Blount County, and I am convinced of that or I would not be involved in it.”
While other county-wide organizations have come and gone over the years, the Chamber continues to stand strong and thrive under its executive leadership along with a diverse board of directors representing all areas of the county.
Today’s chamber is housed in the 110 Building located in historic downtown Oneonta. Working along side Andersen is Lynette Glatzer, who serves as the organization’s administrative assistant. Both came into their new roles already very familiar with the chamber, each having served as chairperson of the board at one point. Together they have combined their many years of chamber experience and business expertise to grow the chamber into what it is today.
The mission now, according to Andersen, is divided into three areas of focus: support local businesses, encourage tourism, and promote an enhanced quality of life for all of Blount County. “In reality, all three of these are so interdependent that they truly cannot be separated,” she further explained.
Local business support
A sampling of some of the things the chamber does for their members includes free document shredding services, affordable health insurance for small businesses through a partnership with the Chambers of Commerce Association of Alabama, free color copying, and meeting space. Other services include:
• Free small business counseling, seminars, and webinars in partnership with JSU.
• Small Business Boot Camp in partnership with the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.
• Promotion of new businesses on social media and in the newspaper.
• Member to member savings through the Chamber Advantage Program.
• “Shop Local” campaigns.
• Networking opportunities.
• Membership directory on chamber website.
• Increase business traffic due to tourism efforts and special events.
• Foster connections between local businesses.
Last year, Andersen and the chamber board launched “Blount County… Awesome by Nature,” as a way to market Blount County and its natural beauty throughout the state. The campaign has been successful even as we all continue to deal with the effects of COVID-19. People continue to come and take advantage of the Locust Fork River, the Scenic River Bridge, Rickwood Caverns, Palisades Park, and many of the county’s other outdoor recreational options. Some other ways they promote the county include:
• Maintain a website containing information about destinations in Blount County and a calendar of events.
• Promote Blount County destinations and events on social media.
• Partner with Alabama Mountain Lakes and Alabama Tourism Department to promote Blount County.
• Answer questions for and make suggestions to people planning a visit.
• Mail packets of information to people planning a visit.
• Brand tourism materials with the slogan, “Blount County…Awesome by Nature.”
• Production of new Blount County map.
Quality of life
“We are Blount County’s information desk,” Andersen said. “We receive calls all day long on every imaginable subject, and we work hard to answer these questions or to connect callers with someone who can. We connect people and resources.”
One of the ways the chamber has begun to help in that regard is a small grant program. Through the program, they’ve been able to provide financial support for many special projects of Blount County nonprofits. The Chamber also continues to support community-wide special projects such as promotion of the 2020 Census, the Blount County Honor Flight, and United Way campaigns.
“And we have many events throughout the year that are fun, interesting, or educational,” she said. “We are a partner of groups all across Blount County and we are a conduit of factual information. We are here to promote every aspect of Blount County from our wonderful school systems to all of our towns.”
In the past 24 months, the Chamber has helped with more than 35 ribbon cuttings and grand openings all across Blount County. They’re working with officials at Rickwood Caverns on what promises to be another amazing Santa’s workshop, and busy planning for events coming in 2021.
“Blount County is such a special place to call home,” Andersen concluded. “It is a real privilege to be able to work every day to make it even better.”