ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is celebrating a five-year-long project completion today with the opening of the Downtown Welcome Center in Ellijay, Georgia.
A new branch for the Chamber and a “needed presence” downtown according to community leaders like Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Gilmer Chamber President Paige Green, this new building will work across town from the Chamber home office and welcome center on Craig Street, just off of Highway 515 between the Waffle House and Advance Auto Parts.
Today’s celebration marks the completion of the preparations and renovations, according to Green, who said the day also serves as the beginning of the Chamber’s return to downtown. A “homecoming” of sorts as the Chamber has been in the Watkins House before, located on the downtown square next to the courthouse.
Green said it wasn’t only the Chamber’s efforts, but a collective involving the Chamber, the Board of Commissioners, and State Legislative involvement from Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston. This alliance’s dedication has pushed the project across the year’s to come to today’s fruition.
While that dedication has stretched five years since conversations first began about the Chamber re-opening the Watkins House as a Welcome Center, Green noted that the Board of Directors’ recent Chairman Trent Sanford and current Chairman John Marshall have made the major push through these last two years to begin and finish the actual renovations on the building.
As a part of the Chamber’s return to downtown, Green said publicly that the Chamber is planning more downtown events through their new center and extended hours. She stated, “We do intend to be open Wednesday through Saturday. We want to be a leader in hoping that our merchants will join with us in opening until six or seven o’clock to greet our guests on the weekends as well.”
Green went on to say that the Downtown Center will also be opened for meeting space needs, or for those visitors who simply need a place to sit and rest. She wants the Downtown Welcome Center to be open in this sense for both tourists and locals.
The celebration also saw visits from each of the Gilmer County Commissioners, Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Karleen Ferguson, as well as Speaker Ralston. Paris offered his thanks to Ralston as well saying that without his help, the community might still be waiting for a downtown center.
Paris spoke about the many “dominoes” that needed to fall in order to accomplish what they have. From relocating the Planning and Zoning Office on the other side of the square to needing help from the Department of Transportation and Ralston for logistics. Paris praised the Chamber and community volunteers and merchants who were integral in making the Welcome Center look as amazing as it does now.
Ralston also offered a few words as he congratulated the county on the facility. He spoke about the history of the Watkins House and its journey through generations and his personal memories of hanging out at the courthouse and walking past the Watkins House everyday after school. Ralston went on to note the significance of the statement the Chamber is making to the citizens of Ellijay and the investment they are making in the community.
However, the day held more meaning than most understood, as they sipped wine from local vineyards and snacked of food from local restaurants, one family shared a moment around a special picture as former Chamber Director Brenda Davis, the lady in the picture, returned to her former offices and joined the celebrations of the changes and growth the building has seen since her last days in it.
The photo, taken in the early 90’s according to Davis. She said it feels good to be back in the building as she pointed out the meetings she held in the large front room and secretary’s office in the room with her photo. She recalled how here entire family got recruited to “volunteer” for events and needs when she held the office and the Welcome Center was there. She chuckled as she pointed out she had an intern, at the time, named Sandy Ott. Now working for University of North Georgia and its expansion campus, Davis recalls her working for the Gilmer Chamber stuffing fliers and mailers for the Chamber.
Davis also recalled a special memory at the Watkins House as they prepared for the Olympics in Atlanta. Davis said it was two years prior and Gilmer was hosting visitors from all over the world. They had received one foreign visitor whose interpreter was not available. He sat on the square as C Lloyd Smith began speaking with him and trying to make him happy with his visit despite the lack of a translator. Davis recalls Smith trying so hard to make this visitor feel welcome despite the major hurdle of language.
Memories like this are built into the bricks of the Watkins House. It seems anyone who lived or worked in Ellijay at the time has some memory tied to the building. As the Chamber returns to its former home, employees, citizens, and even those who no longer live in the county, will return with them to revisit old times, old memories, and tie them together with a new gateway in our community and new visitors creating new memories.
Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber’s Board of Directors, John Marshall offered his thanks for the legacy and the generosity that the Watkins’ family showed years ago when they had donated the building for the public good. Marshall stated, “It is altogether fitting and appropriate that the formerly private residence of this pioneer and progressive family has been transformed into a place to welcome the public.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the vote still set to be made, current indications are saying that the Gilmer Chamber may dodge a termination of their contract with the Board of Commissioners (BOC).
The vote is set for tomorrow’s, January 10, Regular Meeting agenda. The subject matter, however, is a layover from the recent months when former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch began questioning the Hotel/Motel Tax Split during the 2019 budget process. Now, new Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has taken up the banner to continue the discussion and added an item to the agenda for termination of the contract.
“I’m just asking for time,” said Ferguson as she explained that she fully respects the Chamber and what they have accomplished but feels that something is wrong. Stating that she wants the time to look into the Chamber further before an automatic renewal date comes next week, Ferguson did later clarify that it was her understanding from legal counsel that termination was the only way to renegotiate the contract.
With nothing short of an uproar of concern from present Chamber Members and Board Members of the Chamber, a heated debate began regarding the impact and possible outcomes of a termination of the contract, even if later renegotiated. Several citizens commented on the subject including Chamber Board Chairman Trent Sanford who noted that negotiations could come without termination. He also noted an occurrence when this happened three years ago when the contract was renegotiated without a termination.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris noted that he was adamantly opposed to terminating the contract.
Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller was more in favor of changes to the contract, but did note he wanted to find a way to do it without terminating the contract.
Ultimately, it’s not even clear if Ferguson will push the issue of termination as she repeatedly stated she thought that was the only way to renegotiate the contract with its pending automatic renewal.
Citizens may not need to wait long into the meeting to find out, though, as Paris said he felt the issue was resolved and would be seeking to remove the item of contract termination from tomorrow’s agenda while leaving the item regarding Chamber audits and discussions of contract renegotiation open.
Both entities, the BOC and Chamber Board, agreed that the contract did stipulate that Hotel/Motel Tax Audits be done. The Chamber stated they have already begun the process to adhere to the imposing of that contract requirement.
Follow FYN as we go deeper into the subject’s details after tomorrow’s vote at the 6 p.m. public meeting open to all citizens.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners split their opinions on an idea to alter the Chamber and County sharing of the Hotel/Motel tax during budget sessions this year.
Brought up during the Chamber’s meeting with the board by Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, the two entities delved into what it would mean to possibly shift the current 70/30 split to increase funding for the county as well as a boost in their own ambitions for increasing tourism and county draw.
Crouch mentioned only shifting it by 10% to a 60/40 split in the Chamber’s favor. Among several ideas, the county’s recent agreement and push for better signage at the county line arose. The idea resurfaced after a recent push from citizens to claim Gilmer as the Wrestling Capital of Georgia. The county is actively seeking funding sources for the project. However, the idea of funding it through the capital budget seems less likely as the budget meetings revealed at least two departments whose request could consume the entire budget on their own.
As members of the chamber were present at the meeting, the consistent report was overwhelming support and praise for what the Chamber has accomplished saying, “I love the Chamber, they are so engaged with my needs.”
Ultimately, Crouch noted that he has enjoyed and appreciated the Chamber’s work. Instead, he noted that as a business owner he agrees, but as a Commissioner, he sees the constant people talking about road conditions and similar needs. He went on to say that the change wasn’t by any means a reflection of a poor job by the Chamber, but rather he felt at a certain point, he was seeing diminishing returns alongside greater needs elsewhere.
Commission Chairman Charlie Paris disagreed with the idea saying, “My concern would be that we are talking about putting ourselves in a difficult situation in the future to have a better situation in the immediate. I think we have got to look at it long term.”
He went on to add later that he knows the county isn’t where it needs to be on roads. He related a story when he was tasked to go out to the road department and take pictures of junk equipment to be sold off or moved for disposal. Paris said, “When I got back into our meeting and I was showing the pictures, Jim Smith just about had a stroke because ‘No we use that. We use that. We use that.’ That’s what they had to work with.”
Paris noted that the last four years have seen increases from a 16 person crew to 22 people. He noted the equipment replacements including dump trucks, bulldozer, paving roller, road sweeper, and an equipment shed to prolong the life of that equipment. He made a point to note the progress the road department has made saying that the Road Department is continuing along the path of improvement. He said they will continue needing to reverse the department’s neglect for years to come, it can’t be solved in a single year.
Chamber President and CEO Paige Green noted that she expects a plateau at some point. While she agreed with the ideas like gateway signage and organic growth from the county’s location. She added that she understood the “tough decisions” that the board makes, but the hotel/motel money reinvested in an appropriate way would be the long-term solution as opposed to the short-term solution of decreasing funding.
Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller also commented saying he would look at the number if the budget absolutely demanded it.
However, as of now, no changes have been made in the proposed budgets split. The Commissioners still have their October 16 work session and October 17 regular session as well as expected special called meetings before the budget is balanced.
Celebrating ten years at a job is amazing in itself, but I recently learned that even five years at a Chamber of Commerce is not exactly common, much less ten.
As if meant to be, the Gilmer Chamber celebrates 40 years in the same month that its President and CEO, Paige Green, achieves a milestone rarely heard of in the business, ten years as President/CEO.
The business isn’t easy, according to Green, who admits the stress can be overwhelming at times. Yet, she seems to have made a life thriving on the energy as her experience in the Chamber business extends far past just ten years. Getting a chance to sit and think back over her career is not something she has done in a while as Green smiled remembering people and mentors from the past. A thought she continues to return to as she shares her story is just how much effect one person can have on another’s life.
People like Terry Exum, a high school friend who first introduced her to the life as she told her of a job in Green’s hometown. The position was Tourism Director in Eufaula, Alabama.
Having spent a year in college studying PR and Journalism before switching to and receiving a degree in Business Management from Troy State, Green had moved on to a Masters degree as well before spending her time teaching Business Education. It was 1998 and she had just finished her first year of teaching in Grady, Alabama. It was also the point where she knew she shouldn’t be teaching. The way she recalls her time there, she admits she wasn’t the best teacher. Yet, others would disagree, people like Ruth Bodine, who has worked with Green at the Gilmer Chamber since she became President ten years ago.
As a two-man team, Bodine says it was her and Paige when she became the President. Accomplishing everything from Taste of Ellijay to the Apple Festival, Bodine says she was often asked how the two of them did it? To which she replies, “I don’t know, we just did.”
She recalls how they would relieve the mental stress, days when they would start moving furniture at 4:30 in the afternoon. Even though the day ended at 5:00, they’d still be moving furniture at 7:00 p.m.
Bodine says it was Green’s teaching that kept her at the Chamber so long, and even now as she prepares to leave the Chamber, she looks back and admits she would never have stayed so long without Paige Green.
“I could have failed,” says Bodine who added that it was always Green behind her as she worked on the databases. She taught through partnership as they both agreed they didn’t like the database at the time and had Bodine research and look for a new database. She adds that it was this type of partnership and teaching that kept her working for the Chamber all this time.
Still, Green left her teaching in Grady to return home to Eufaula and take up the mantle as Tourism Director. Nostalgia surfaces as she recalls a tiny office, one belonging to the building’s postmaster in its former life as the post office. With pride in her voice, Green says she left the sign on the door. She calls it her first “real, grown-up job.”
Though you may not be able to notice it if you know her, Green is very introverted. She calls herself a shy girl who can’t inject herself into a conversation. After nearly 20 years of work in social situations, she may have grown out of it slightly, but she says she still retreats back into herself every day. Eufaula was the beginning of a life of going against that urge.
To say she pioneered the position in Eufaula is nothing short of an understatement. Before her, it had been a part-time position before lying vacant for a year. As she walked into her first day, the office held a legal pad, a pen, a telephone, and a typewriter.
A noticeable lack of files on anything from local businesses to statistics for recent years greeted Green as she began her five-year journey to build the tourism of the town into a flourishing economy. It took almost three years before she pitched the brain child of her and friend Ken White, a ‘fee’ added into hotels to help inject life into efforts to grow the Chamber, the tourism, and the town as a whole. Something that anyone who has been to many Board of Commissioners meetings in Gilmer will recognize as the Hotel/Motel tax.
The single change of adding the fee injected an additional $200,000 into her tourism budget. It also kickstarted a growth in fishing tournaments as she began using the funds to host larger events. What she didn’t know at the time is that it would ultimately lead to her leaving the position.
Not by any mistake or incident, but the funds and growth in the tournaments gave way to something that began the actual transition. The spark that led her away from Eufaula was a laugh.
Having worked so closely over the years with BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society), Green grew closer to those she worked alongside. She found herself joking with a college roommate one day who worked with BASS saying “It’d be kind of cool to work with you guys.”
Though they all laughed, it didn’t take long for the seriousness to surface, drawing this young lady away from her hometown to Montgomery, Alabama. Though leaving Eufaula behind, Green often thinks back to both her family and her town. Yet, when talking about switching jobs and moving around, she says, “I’ve always been fortunate that I’ve never had to leave a job. It’s always been for a better opportunity.”
Starting the job in 2003, it wasn’t long before BASS, a company owned by ESPN, had Green flying to Connecticut to visit the home office. Yet throughout her time, it became rather muddy exactly what her title was. Titles like Sponsorship Coordinator and Director’s Assistant were mentioned several times over the years. But if you outlast four bosses like she did, it might be understandable that these things change a lot.
Actually, Green shares that it seemed each new boss came with a promotion for her as her title and function changed. Working to maintain relationships with clients, sponsors, event locations, and contracts, Green says, “I got to plan all of the cool parties, I just didn’t get to go.” Some of these events are widely well known even today, events like the Bassmaster Classic.
Events like these brought out a newer side of her as she began realizing the level of stress that comes with the events. For example, she calls the Bassmaster Classic ‘Hell-Week.’ It only showcases the kind of person it takes to become an events coordinator. These people not only thrive on the stress and chaos, they become addicted to it. She didn’t explicitly admit this, but after five years with Eufaula, five years with BASS, and ten years with the Gilmer Chamber, the term adrenaline junkie gets used more freely.
Indeed, she began showing her best efforts when facing 50 anglers on a lake, 50,000 people attending a weigh-in, sponsors and anglers whose rooms didn’t get booked, and other unforeseen errors. In fact, Green has never had an event in any job that didn’t have logistical problems. It reminds you of the old phrase, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
“Anyone who ever says ‘Oh, the event went so smoothly,’ they are lying,” says Green. The difference is that where most people would be freaking out over the logistical mistakes, Green says, “That’s the cool part, is fixing the problems you didn’t know you’d have.”
Now, that’s not to say the stress doesn’t get to her. By her own admission, she has come ‘unglued’ at times. “The difference,” says Green, “is being able to stay glued in front of people, and coming unglued in your hotel room that night.”
It is in these moments that one can find the real chink in the armor of this lady. It is the less visible moment that one finds their own humanity. It came in 2005 for Green. In 2004, BASS announced they were moving their company to Orlando, Florida. Though not everyone got an offer to move with the company, she did. As she deliberated the choice of moving, the fear began to settle.
Before you can simply pass this off as a simple choice that should not have had such weight, think about a small-town girl who has never lived more than 80 miles from where she grew up. Though she had traveled, she never moved that far. Think also about a girl very close to her parents, very attached to her life. It’s like walking a tightrope without a safety net for the first time. No short ride to visit with the parents who loved and helped her through the majority of her life, indeed it was new people, a new place, a new climate, a new house, and even new changes to the job.
She had made her decision to leave the company. The only problem was that she never told the company that.
It was in early 2005 that she had decided she was going to teach again. She had full plans to work for Troy University. She was so sure, in fact, that she had the paperwork ready. She had just left the university after accepting the position. It was decided.
It was a simple moment when she pulled off the road into a McDonald’s parking lot. Pulling out her phone, she called the same man she had checked in with for her entire life, her father. It was a simple moment… which changed everything.
She didn’t pull over and call him to question anything about her decision. Yet, as they spoke, Green says she could hear something in his voice. “Do you think I’m making a mistake?” she asked.
Not being the type of father to influence her decisions, he didn’t say whether he thought it was or not. It was her decision.
“I lost it,” says Green, “I just remember sitting in the parking lot at that McDonald’s at Troy and bawling my eyes out because I didn’t know whether to zig or to zag.”
She traveled home to her Montgomery apartment and sat staring at the wall for three hours. It wasn’t until a knock at the door finally pulled her from her trance that she got up. Answering the door, she found her parents standing there. Driving eighty miles through a storm, they had come to help her choose.
Laying everything out and discussing the options, a decision still could not be reached. Sending her parents home without a conclusion, Green says she woke up the next morning and called Troy to say she wasn’t taking the job. She was moving to Orlando.
As the years progressed, she began traveling more and more. She found herself on the road for 23 weeks out of the year saying, “I had a really nice house for my cat…” Having moved to Orlando in April of 2005, she spent the next three years with the company.
Though she enjoyed traveling and seeing the country, it was a constant suitcase being packed and unpacked. The continuous movement never really allowed roots to grow. She loved the job, but things began to add up to a need for change. It wasn’t just the constant traveling, though. Green says things began changing and people began leaving as rumors grew that the company might be sold.
Searching through options for positions with boat manufacturers to stay in the industry she knew and chamber positions to follow the what she began earlier in life, Green happened upon a posting on the internet about a position with a North Georgia county where she had visited as a child. She had found the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce.
She had, unfortunately, also found a 17-page application for the position. Something she jokes about to this day and even had in the temporary museum for the Chamber’s 40-year celebration.
Interviewing for the job proved to be far more difficult than just a 17-page application, however, as she first submitted her resume to Tim Chason, the ‘headhunter’ who was hired to find someone for the position. She then had a phone interview with him. After he approved of her as a potential candidate, he provided the 17-page application. He then narrowed down the candidates to four, including Green.
Coming in to interview with a committee meant facing eight people simultaneously. She met them in a boardroom on the second floor of New Horizons Bank, now South State Bank. To this day, she admits she refuses to sit at the head of the table as it was her spot for the interview.
In a remarkable turn, she shares a story that Melinda Hadden loves to tell. After the interview ended, Green walked out to her Toyota truck wearing a pencil skirt. Green says, “I’m a girl from South Alabama, so I yanked up my skirt to climb up into the truck.”
The catch is, the entire committee she had just interviewed with was standing at the window of the second floor watching her get into the truck. The twist came as Green shares the story saying that Hadden told the committee as soon as she saw her hike up her skirt, she knew that she was the one.
The job offer came on the very same day.
In perhaps one of the biggest ‘buts’ in Gilmer history, they hired her, but she started the job on October 1. Those of you who have lived in Ellijay know what October means. It 2008, when she was hired, October 1 fell on a Wednesday and one of the largest festivals in North Georgia fell on the following weekend, she had ten days to prepare herself for the Apple Festival.
Again, thriving on the chaos and stress, she has grown into a leader and logistical machine gathering her 20 years of experience into the position’s needs as president. It is a strength only she has access to according to Gilmer’s Tourism Director, Karla Roper.
It is her leadership that sets her apart for Roper. Another veteran of the Chamber world, Roper confesses that what ultimately drew her in with Paige Green was that “she saw me.” The faith and the encouragement is one thing, but the ability to share Roper’s vision and her support for ideas that may seem crazy was the key for Roper.
More than that, she says it is Greens experience that sets her in awe sometimes. The way she intuitively knows who to call and what to do to get things done. It is the thing she seeks on a daily basis to grow in, to gain that knowledge base and the experience that Green holds. Calling her the ‘Mama Bear’ of the Chamber, Roper notes its more than just dealing with issues, Green makes it look effortless and supporting and teaching her staff in the process.
It’s a shared feeling as both women separately noted the energy they get from each other. The growing relationship that feeds the family community is one of Roper’s favorite parts of working with Green.
With Roper echoing the point of how stressful the job has been over ten years, it becomes apparent that a desperate need to decompress is inherent with the position. Green says she has her family and friends to be with at times, but she shares a lesser known secret that is far more consistently used. A ‘quiet room’ furnished with books, comfortable chairs, and a lamp provides her solace. A literal refuge to hermit herself inside. As Green tells it, it is the one place in the world that people know, if she is there, don’t talk to her. It has no tv, she doesn’t take her cell phone there, it has no computer, it holds the world at bay for a few moments to release and simply be.
It is a blanket fort made solid.
But outside of this place, the job awaits, the complaints build, the economy shifts, and the staff rolls on. Teaching a point as President so uncommonly done, the ten-year mark has allowed a look back at how she has made it. Bodine and Roper agree it is the way she treats people that garners success, that it is her inspiration to people that has built the Chamber to what it is today.
Green, on the other hand, says it is the moments that fuel her. In a business with so many intangibilities, it is easy to get lost without something to hold onto as a goal or an achievement. The Chamber sells something that isn’t tangible. It sells memberships and the benefits involved. Likewise, when the Chamber meets a goal like a number of memberships, there is always a higher goal, more to be done.
Such a business is more difficult to run, says Green. That’s why you hold onto the moments that happen. Moments like establishing the Greater Gilmer JDA (Joint Development Authority) or being nominated to the USA Today’s Nicest Places in America become the validation needed for her position.
What exactly is that position? Green says she is the ‘head cheerleader’ for the county. Understanding that every community has something great about it is the first step, but the long and arduous process of marketing and growing that community is the part that needs cheering.
While it can be frustrating as such a public position, most local people see the Chamber cut a ribbon and that’s it. They don’t see many of the posts, marketing ads, and business deals that you would only know from listening to her reports during Commissioner Work Sessions.
Accomplishing success in this kind of market requires a double-edged sword. Simultaneously a great strength and a great weakness, Green says she was told by a friend that she was never satisfied. Despite what she has accomplished, she still feels like there is more to do in Gilmer County, more she can give.
With roots set in the county, Green says she doesn’t want to leave anytime soon. However, as she looks ahead she confesses a desire that she ends where she began. With no clear plan set, she does want to return to teaching someday. Whether its at Troy or Auburn or anywhere, the draw is undeniable.
Though there is future in the Chamber as well. Green is seeking certification as a CCE (Certified Chamber Executive) and looking at the possibility of getting the Chamber accredited. With only the top 2-3% in the country reaching accredited status. Wanting the status to build trust, she wants to show how strong the Chamber and the County can be.
The funny and energetic social introvert that is Paige Green, she says her shyness only lasts so far. It’s all about home-field advantage because if you catch her in comfortable situations, in her line of work or something she is familiar with, the introversion ceases and she becomes the person she has been for ten years in the Chamber. In control, the master of her domain.
Georgia Farm Bureau held their ribbon cutting ceremony on October 3, 2012. (more…)
The Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce Luncheon was held Thursday, May 12th at the Gilmer County Civic Center. The luncheon was sponsored by Citizens South Bank. Citizens South Bank, new to Gilmer County, was founded in 1904 and is headquartered in Gastonia, NC. (more…)
This past weekend Ellijay and Blue Ridge hosted the Georgia Travel Media Marketplace, a program of the Georgia Tourism Division designed to showcase the state’s tourism assets. As FYN reported earlier, the Ellijay and Blue Ridge Chambers of Commerce competed in a bid process with ten other Georgia cities for this great opportunity to promote tourism in our area. (more…)