Smoky Mountains communities unite to support area tourism
As the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee begin the recovery process following the Nov. 28 wildfires, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevier County (Tennessee) tourism officials have united to reinforce a strong message delivered by Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner.
"If you really want to do something for Gatlinburg, come back and visit us,” Werner said in a Nov. 30 press conference, encouraging visitation as a show of support to the popular vacation destination located next door to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation’s most visited. Werner lost his home and business in the fire.
The area has received an overwhelming outpouring of donations, phone calls and support from community members. First responders from across the country helped battle the blaze.
“The generosity and concern shown to our community is a blessing beyond words,” said Mark Adams, Chief Executive Officer of the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But it has also reinforced to us that our community is not just here at home. Our community is all the folks who have visited with us through the years, who feel a very special connection to our cities and these mountains. They continue to ask us how they can best help us because they, too, want to see this area rebuild.”
According to Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Council Director Mary Hope Maples, tourism is the county’s largest industry. “Tourism is the lifeblood of Sevier County and its three gateway cities—Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Our tourism officials have an obligation to our residents to sustain our tourism industry to ensure that employees have jobs to support themselves and their families.”
A Community Resource Center opened on Dec. 1 to assist residents with insurance claims, unemployment filings, building permits for both residential and commercial structures, driver’s license replacement and other processes necessary during the rebuilding process. In addition, several employment agencies are on site to help displaced workers find jobs.
Sevier County tourism officials are reinforcing the message that the vacation destination’s many attractions, theatres, restaurants and lodging properties are operating as usual after recent wildfires in the area. In Gatlinburg, the area surrounding downtown Gatlinburg experienced significant losses this week; however, the heart of the city’s town is intact. The structures along Gatlinburg’s main strip still stand, including Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Ole Smoky Distillery, the Gatlinburg Space Needle, and the Convention Center.
Businesses in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville suffered no damages, and are operating as usual. Dollywood, the state’s most-visited ticketed attraction is open. Also, Smoky Mountain Winterfest festival, which spans all three cities, continues through Feb. 28. Restaurants and lodging properties in Pigeon Forge are operating on normal schedules.
“Many people have asked us how to help. One of the best ways to help the Smoky Mountains recover from the wildfire’s impact is to come visit us and help keep our community strong and working,” said Brenda McCroskey, Chief Executive Officer of the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce.
“We are happy to report that businesses along the Parkway in Sevierville, including Tanger Outlets and Apple Barn and Cider Mill, are open as usual and ready to help you enjoy your Smoky Mountain vacation,” McCroskey added.
“As we strive to keep our folks working so that they can support themselves and their families, our greater community can help us in several ways,” said Leon Downey, Executive Director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism. “If you have reservations, don’t cancel; come and see us during Winterfest. Consider us as you make your plans for spring break and next summer’s vacation. This will help us sustain our businesses and jobs.”
For more information about Smoky Mountain Winterfest as well as other information about visiting Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevier County, please visit www.SmokiesFun.com.
Flint-Genesee Chamber Challenges the World with Social Media Campaign
For many chambers located in areas hit by disaster, one of the hardest aspects of the recovery process is to make the world aware that the affected town or region is indeed “open for business.” When devastating pictures and stories of despair dominate non-stop media coverage, all this bad news can have lasting negative consequences on the local economy.
As Flint, Mich., finds itself in the midst of the ongoing water crisis, many of its businesses are feeling the pinch as a result of all the negative publicity. In response, the Flint-Genesee Chamber of Commerce launched in March a social media campaign to drive business and tourism to the city of Flint. According to the chamber’s news release, the #ChooseFlint campaign, which runs through early April, "challenges people to visit a local business or attraction, take a photo and share it on social networks – and then call on three friends to do the same." The chamber launched the campaign on its Facebook page with a video illustrating different ways to #ChooseFlint.
Elaine Redd, the chamber’s director of communications, says the nationwide support has been tremendous. “So many people have asked how they can support Flint during this time,” says Redd. “One of the ways they can help is to tell everyone they know that Flint is open for business. Make a conscious choice to ‘Choose Flint’ by patronizing Flint restaurants and other businesses, and challenging three of their friends to do the same.”
Superman and the Chamber of Commerce
It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a borrowed idea.
As Superman and Batman battle in thousands of theatres in the coming weeks, it’s worth looking more closely at where the first of them – Superman – came from. Like a host of other successful creations of popular culture, Superman emerged from more than one mind.
Most of these beginnings can be seen in an MGM movie, “The Secret Six,” which came out in the spring of 1931. This film features six masked businessmen who were fed up with a local criminal and put him away. The criminal was named Slaughterhouse Scorpio and was loosely modeled on the famous evildoer of Chicago, Al Capone. The movie also included an idealistic, crime-fighting reporter named Clark. (This is Clark Gable, in one of his first major roles. He stole the show!)
So here, in one film, were key parts of the Superman story: secret identities, “good” vigilantes, and a crime-fighting reporter named Clark. Superman’s creator, Jerry Siegel, would name his idealistic reporter Clark despite the overwhelming (to that point) unpopularity of the appellation “Clark.” (That name did not even place among the most popular 200 boys’ names of the 1920s.) Siegel would later admit he named Clark Kent after Clark Gable.
Superman with his Clark Kent alter-ego emerged for Siegel in late 1933. That was only 18 months after “The Secret Six” opened. It’s hard to imagine Jerry Siegel suddenly invented his Superman independently from “The Secret Six,” which also included secret identities, “good” vigilantes, and a crime-fighting reporter named Clark. That is a long string of coincidences.
“The Secret Six” film was in turn influenced by something else. The movie was partly based on the “real” Secret Six, a group of Chicago business people who went after Al Capone and other gangsters in the early 1930s. These businessmen were a committee of a chamber of commerce, the Chicago Association of Commerce. They were extraordinarily effective by most counts, including Capone’s himself. At one point the criminal said, “The Secret Six has licked the rackets. They’ve licked me. They’ve made it so there’s no money in the game anymore.” The group hired a chief detective, Alexander Jamie, who brought in his brother-in-law, Eliot Ness, to help on the federal side.
The “real” Secret Six (apart from their leader, who of necessity was a public figure – the president of the Chicago Association of Commerce) maintained secret identities because they didn’t want to be killed by Capone or his henchmen. But their secret identities were a part of their glamour and their idea for crime fighting was widely copied and popular in the media. Soon there was a Secret Five in Kansas City and later a Secret Seven in Cleveland, both formed by their local chambers of commerce. And, of course, speaking of media influence, the Chicago chamber’s fight with Capone inspired MGM to make “The Secret Six.”
Secret identities, which had been known before (as in “Zorro”), were extremely popular in the early 1930s thanks to people using them for real-life, high-profile, life-and-death activities. Also popular was the related idea of business vigilantes fighting the bad guys. And when Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion on Oct. 17, 1931, people could take heart that these groups were effective even against the most famous criminal of all time. This may later have been of some comfort and inspiration to Jerry Siegel, whose father died in 1932 when his store was robbed by hoodlums.
Jerry Siegel was a master chef, but he didn’t cook from scratch. He chose the ingredients available to him when he created Superman. And many of his ingredients were from the biggest crime-fighting story of his era, the catching of Al Capone, and from the movie loosely based on that story. Siegel’s genius was in taking his hero to the skies and making him human at the same time with a unique, very personalized secret identity, complete with love interests.
It is interesting how the high-profile struggle against one criminal by, of all things, a chamber of commerce, could have so many ramifications in American cultural life. Business people’s fight to take down the world’s most famous criminal (Capone) resulted, indirectly, in the birth of the world’s most famous superhero (Superman). Superman, in turn, begat Batman and a host of other comic-book heroes.
The Chicago Association of Commerce didn’t create Superman; Siegel did. But Superman couldn’t have existed without the chamber’s Secret Six and the MGM movie made about them. Without secret identities, without the concept of “good” vigilantes fighting crime, without a crusading journalist named Clark – just what would there have been left for Superman to be?
Mead is senior vice president of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and the author of “The Magicians of Main Street: America and its Chambers of Commerce, 1768-1945.”
Family UnitedÖ With a Lot of Help
As a member of ACCE and a service provider for the chamber industry for eight years, we’ve always experienced great service from our counterparts serving in the chamber industry. But recently, Central Holidays West went beyond the definition of customer service.
I’ve traveled with Central Holidays West on a few European trips, and they always deliver what they advertise and more. Last November, when a group of ACCE members traveled to Sicily, was no exception. The itinerary allowed plenty of free time to explore on our own, but there were also interesting excursions and guided tours that gave us a taste of the island. We picked and pressed olives, enjoyed a home-cooked meal in a tiny villa, and climbed Mt. Etna for the season’s first snowfall.
But the “above and beyond” moment I have to share was a highly personal experience. Both of my grandparents are from Sicily and, although we’ve never met, I still have family on the island. My dream for this trip was to meet some of my relatives for the first time. My Sicilian relatives were a couple hours’ drive away and I doubted that I could pull off a visit, particularly without disrupting the group’s experience. But I asked our amazing tour guide Lorenzo Tarzia anyway, to see if it might be possible.
Within an hour, Lorenzo met me in the hotel lobby and told me that a car would pick me up in the morning and drive me to the small, out-of-the-way village where my relatives lived. I would then be able to meet up with the rest of the group later in the day.
“Really?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “you’re all set.”
This was a "bucket list" item for me and he’d made it possible in an hour. I was blown away. This guy is amazing!
As promised, the next morning Sebastian from “Sicily with Sebastian” arrived at the hotel in a beautiful new Audi. Lorenzo was there, like a father watching a daughter leave for prom, to make sure I was all set. Sicilian-born Sebastian speaks fluent English and knows every spot on the island and its history. Besides being a historian, he’s also an avid photographer. Throughout our two-hour excursion he’d pull over at one amazing vista after the next, making sure I didn’t miss any photo opportunities.
When we arrived at my relatives' business to meet them for the first time, Sebastian acted as an interpreter and photographer. We spent 4-5 hours touring the village and saw where my grandparents lived, went to school and church. By the time we left, Sebastian and I both felt like family. A couple of hours later I was back with Lorenzo and the group.
Central Holidays West and their local connections made this a trip of a lifetime for me. Thank you Ian, Kent and Lorenzo for making this a trip I will cherish the memories from for the rest of my life!
Is your chamberís annual meeting this much fun?
A performance by Tony Orlando, cheerleaders, prize giveaways, a bacon mascot, trapeze artists, and a chamber president singing “You Belong To Me”: this was the Greater Lehigh Valley (PA) Chamber’s recent annual meeting and awards luncheon held earlier this month. The chamber team led by President/CEO Tony Iannelli bills the event as “the most infotaining event of the year.” It always sells out with more than 1,000 members attending.
Recognized as “not your typical annual meeting,” the chamber event is definitely fun. According to an article in The Morning Call, Tony Iannelli’s “entrance was a little more subdued than last year's, when he landed on the stage in a spacesuit to the sounds of the classic David Bowie tune ‘Space Oddity.’”
Watch highlights from this year’s annual meeting: https://vimeo.com/144896476. If you think it’s pretty awesome, the chamber’s COO & EVP of Member Relations Frank Facchiano says, “Wait till you see the gala!”
At a time when some chambers are partnering with neighboring chambers or entering regional alliances, the Anchor Bay (MI) Chamber of Commerce went against the tide when it decided to break a four-year partnership with the Sterling Heights (MI) Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Oct. 2014 break up was a mutual decision between the two chambers after former president Lisa Edwards resigned.
Now, what was old is new again for the Anchor Bay Chamber, as it returns to its original roots and relaunches itself to serve its local communities. After spending the past year rebuilding itself as an individual organization, the chamber is looking forward to 2016 being, as it told local newspaper, The Voice, "a break-out year." The chamber’s existing membership base is energized for the organization’s future, despite the tasks on its to-do list, which include creating a new board and developing a new website. It was evident at the chamber’s annual meeting last month. In an interview following the meeting, local business owner and chamber member Mark Miller said, “The meeting was awesome. It was positive, and those in attendance would like to see a very successful local chamber grow again.” Learn more about the Anchor Bay Chamber’s story and the spirit that is driving its exciting rebirth: http://www.voicenews.com/articles/2015/11/07/news/doc563a3d962c55c673809370.txt?viewmode=fullstory
ABCís of Running for Office
November is the month for politics and Michigan’s Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce is cultivating future elected leaders by hosting a Candidate Information Workshop.
For a nominal fee, anyone interested in seeking public office – from school board to state level positions – can get a crash course on campaign rules, marketing, fundraising, and more. In an article promoting the event, Wes Eklund, chair of the chamber’s government affairs committee, commented on how, through public office, community members can be drivers for prosperity in their own backyards: "Participation in the political arena from all citizens in the community is essential for dynamic and innovative growth and development." Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2015/11/muskegon_lakeshore_chamber_of_7.html
Two Birds, One Stone
Last week, the Charleston Metro Chamber was able to check two major programmatic boxes with one trip. On their way to Richmond for an annual ICV, they added a D.C. leg to the trip. After a direct arrival into Reagan National Airport, thanks to the recent addition of JetBlue service to the Charleston Airport, the delegation headed for the Capitol Visitor’s Center for lunch.
Chamber members met with staffers from their key legislators and spent time with Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a crowd favorite. Each guest spent time addressing some of the chamber’s highest priority issues: Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, the deepening of the Charleston harbor and passage of a new federal highway authorization bill. The legislators’ familiarity with the chamber’s key focus areas was a testament to the chamber’s advocacy efforts.
Senator Scott expressed gratitude to the chamber, saying, “Thank you for what you do to help make our community amazing.” When asked what the delegation could do to continue their support of the region, Scott advised local businesses to help create the future today, stressing the importance of being on the cutting edge of high tech advancements and also to focus on middle-skill jobs.
After lunch, a charter bus transported the group south to Virginia’s capitol. In a partnership with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, the Charleston Metro Chamber produced a Regional Economic Scorecard which compares Charleston’s data from 2005-2013 against six similar cities and two “leading economies”, with Richmond among the comparative. Selecting Richmond as the destination for their 4th Annual Metro Leadership Visit allowed the chamber’s attendees to make practical comparisons and see how programs, practices and initiatives could be realistically translated back to their own community.
The first stop in Richmond took attendees to Rocketts Landing, a new mixed-use neighborhood on the James River. Richard Souter, one of the developers of the project, was the first to address the group. Attendees learned how the project has become a catalyst for other riverside development, such as a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route and the new Stone Brewery plant and bistro. Richmond’s Economic Development Authority COO, Jane Ferrara, also talked the group through the bid process for the Stone project – one for which Charleston was also in competition.
The next two days included tours and presentations on a host of other topics such as urban living, BRT, Virginia’s Biotechnology Park, creativity and entrepreneurism. Although the range of topics was diverse, the common theme was growth and development. Several attendees alluded to a growing divide in Charleston between those that want to see the city grow, and those that want to preserve its historic charm. The chamber supports “responsible growth”, so it is no wonder they are looking to Richmond and other historic cities to see how leaders there are successfully getting things done with public support.
The diversity of topics also served as a recruitment tool for the trip. The roughly 30 delegates represented an array of industries such as banking, technology, architecture and development, educational institutions, hospitality and others. One attendee remarked that the diverse networking opportunities was a big motivator in attending the visit. She also appreciated getting to know peers in this type of environment, because it affords an opportunity to connect on a deeper level.
Also of benefit to attendees is the value of meeting with and learning from thought leaders in other flourishing destinations. One attendee, a professor at the College of Charleston, voiced his appreciation for educational opportunities such as the leadership visit. “Every time I come to a chamber event, I come away with something new. It is the only conduit to ‘all of this’”, he said as he gestured around him.
Upstate N.Y.ís New Advocate for Regional Business
The memberships of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber and the Chamber of Schenectady County have voted to integrate into one umbrella organization: the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce. According to an article in Albany Business Review, the move forms "the largest chamber in the Albany, New York region" that will serve regional business interests and provide broad-based member services. Both chambers will exist as affiliate members of the Capital Region Chamber. They will operate with their own identities and boards, and continue to present locally-focused programs and provide issue advocacy at the local level.
Slam-Dunk Honor in Akron
Earlier this month, the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce enjoyed some celebrity sizzle during its annual meeting banquet when it honored Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James. James, a four-time NBA MVP, attended the event to accept the H. Peter Burg Leadership Award, recognizing his leadership and philanthropic efforts in Akron. The award annually honors a community member who exemplifies community service.