What’s Happening for Halloween? Gilmer Chamber Update

Gilmer County Chamber

 

 

Chamber begins search for new President

Community, News
President

ELLIJAY, Ga. – In August, the President and CEO of the Gilmer County Chamber, Paige Hutto, announced her resignation to be with family and her husband in Alabama.

President

Paige Hutto, President/CEO of the Gilmer Chamber

Today, the Chamber has announced they are beginning their search for their new President alongside the Chason Group, a “search firm” based in Georgia. This group has been used by other groups in both Gilmer and neighboring counties searching for officials like Presidents, Managers, and other positions in need of certain qualifications as their website says the perform searches for “Executive Talent.”

They are also currently working with Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, Murray County Industrial Development Authority, and Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce in searches. According to a release from the Chamber, this is the same group that identified Hutto as a candidate when she took the position of President/CEO, and also Alan May before her.

President

Chair of the Board of Directors for the Gilmer Chamber, Chris Wang

According to their statement, the current Chair of the Board of Directors, Chris Wang said, “Our board is taking a very organized and strategic approach to the executive search process for a new president. We want to make sure we identify the most qualified professionals who have the skill sets required to move the chamber and community forward in terms of tourism and business growth. We are open to traditional and nontraditional candidates as long as they have the skills sets required of the position. A lot has changed since Paige came on board and we want to make sure we get it right again, just as the previous search committee did.”

The process is set to take between 100-120 days according to the Chason Group who says phase 1 has already been completed as they have met with stakeholders and interviewed members to see the type of person and the skills that they want to find in their new president. Today, they announced the opening and are accepting resumes until September 18, 2020.

After that, selected candidates will be interviewed and narrowed until the Chamber finally reaches its decision on the candidate to fill the position. With the process completed, all indications point that the Chamber should have its new leader before Christmas.

Will Gilmer feel an economic impact from cancelling the Apple Festival?

News
Festival

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the recent announcement of the cancellation of the 2020 Apple Festival, many are still wondering about the impact, the decisions, and the virus’ toll on the festival season.

Earlier this year, Chamber officials were planning on make-up days for the Apple Blossom Festival left over from May. At one point, discussions were set to host the Apple Blossom Festival in August and then the Apple Festival in October as normal. Now, neither of these festivals will see make-up days as the boards over each have fully cancelled the events.

Most of the citizens concerns voice through comments and social media revolve more around the virus than any economic impact. Some are applauding the choice, like Dylan Slade who called it a good decision stating, “Public Health Foremost.”

Still others are discounting the choice. Courtney Graham didn’t state whether she thought the cancellation was good or bad, but did state, “The apple houses are open, the rental cabins are open, they will still come.”

A Report of the Hotel/Motel Tax Collections for Gilmer County.

This statement does hold some merit as FYN gathered reports from the county and cities. According to Gilmer County’s Financial Officer, Sandi Holden, the collections of Hotel/Motel Tax in June alone reached $113,870. According to county records, their Hotel/Motel Tax has never been over $100,000 in the last three years. Comparing June to the same month in previous years, 2019 totaled $78,044. In 2018, June totaled $75, 108. In 2017, June totaled only $52,838.

Additionally, there has been only one month that reached $90,000. That was October 2019.

Ellijay is not that different, either. Their year-to-date report shows them already reaching $8,196 by July. Just under half of last year’s total collection of $16,882 and just over two-thirds of 2018’s $11,399 total.

However, October is consistently among the highest months for the county, showing that the Festival season does have a major impact on local economy. October was the highest month of the year for Hotel/Motel Tax in both 2018 and 2019. In 2017, it was third highest behind November and July, the highest month.

Digging deeper than just Hotel/Motel Tax, SPLOST collections on sales tax in the County paint a very similar story with one notable difference.

SPLOST Collections for the last six years show certain trends, but nothing is set to predict the coming three months.

Just like the Hotel/Motel, SPLOST shows the months of June and July of 2020 setting records for collections in the county. According to Holden, June 2020 saw a SPLOST revenue of $440,176. July 2020 saw a SPLOST Revenue of $453,981.

SPLOST Revenue has only gone above $400,000 three times in the last six years. December 2019 reached $406,020. November 2018 reached $400,655. In those years, October has never gone above $400,000. The final also came in 2020, January reached $401,243.

Therein lies the difference. Whereas the Hotel/Motel Tax saw major increases in October, SPLOST collections saw less so, with October usually falling behind November and December in collections.

Comparatively, April of 2020, which worried local county and city governments and saw halts to projects and capital spending as they awaited the numbers to see how bad the economy would get, saw a collection of $374,630. Higher than any previous year’s October except 2019.

Locals are split with some saying they are happy with the decision and others questioning different signals from different entities. Some online have commented saying that one entity is cancelling the festival while another entity is pushing forward with opening schools, a hot topic in August with news stories from all over Georgia highlighting the issue.

However, one downtown business owner is optimistic despite the cancelled festival.

Festival

Craftsmen, Food Vendors, artists, musicians, and many others are a part of the annual festival that stretches far beyond just the fairgrounds and ecmpossaes Apple Arts, a parade, musical shows, a beauty pageant, car shows, and more across two weekends.

Steve Cortes, owner of WhimZ Boutique and Heart and Vine and a former head of the merchant’s association, said, “It’s certainly going to have an impact.”

Cortes explained, however, that his hope is that a lot of people will still come. Even in recent years, he notes that his business has had many vacationers, leaf-lookers, and others who either didn’t know of the Festival or weren’t planning to attend.

Cortes admitted there would be an impact, but added on saying, “I don’t think it’s going to have as big of an impact as everybody fears.”

He said that he believes many of the counties visitors have already made plans and probably won’t cancel them. And so he is preparing for an increase as he notes he has continued following guidelines with masks and other ways to combat the virus in his store.

One major note he added, is that August is looking better than his recent months in the business. Comparing sales and business with previous years, August has been optimistically close.

Comparisons of finances are suggesting just as many people could be heading our way in October. It seems an impact is coming, but no clear picture is available yet on what kind of increase or decrease could be seen. Cancelling the festival could mean that business is more spread out across the county, or it could mean overcrowded Apple Houses and Vineyards. It could either mean a more spread out October instead of focused into two weekends, or it could mean a dip from the record setting two months that the county has seen in June and July.

Paige Hutto speaks on resignation from Chamber

Community

Inevitable. The decision to move home was coming sooner or later for Paige Green Hutto. The recently married President/CEO of Gilmer Chamber said she knew when she got married that she eventually wanted to move home to Alabama with her husband and family.

“Family” is more than just the husband and kids. It is parents, too. Hutto’s mother and father live in Alabama as well. Going home to that much was most definitely a major part of the decision.

From Left to Right, Lisa Salman, Paige Hutto, Ellen Grant, and Caitlin Neal pose for a photo at the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Gilmer Chamber.

Yet, it wasn’t something that she has worried about and fretted over. It was a feeling that she was waiting for, a sense of “the right time.” She explains that she wasn’t looking for a sign. Instead, she knew that when the time came, she would feel it and understand in her heart that the time had come.

She wasn’t going to abandon her friends, Chamber members, and colleagues in such a rough time period with so much facing them amidst the uncertainties of the virus.

And so she worked through the time until a few weeks ago. Hutto said, “I just realized that it would be selfish of me to stay because I could not give 150 percent like I always had.”

With a divided heart between two towns and a divided schedule as well, Hutto said the community deserved better. It was a Friday that she finally decided. That Monday, she shared her decision.

She also stated that as she made her decision to go home, she was prepared that it wasn’t a quick change. She shared her decision and her resignation openly ready to stay on for the transition if the Chamber Board asked.

And they did.

Paige Hutto, left, stands with Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, right. whom she worked alongside on many projects throughout her tenure with the Gilmer Chamber.

Hutto is still in Ellijay, for now. She is still leading the Chamber, for now. It is the last responsibility she is taking on as Gilmer’s Chamber President. Transitioning to a new leader, a new President.

The process, she estimates, should take about 90 days to find that replacement, with only a few days of overlap as she hands things off to the Chamber’s new leader.

Looking at the next chapter, there isn’t exactly a lit path ahead for her. She said going home and being with family is the main focus. As for continuing in the tourism business, she said it would take the right opportunity to come along to return to the industry. Gilmer is a special place and Hutto said she has loved it here.

“I’m really looking forward to finishing out my time in Ellijay. I’m really focused on that,” said Hutto.

To accomplish that, she is working through the issues of the day as the Chamber handles all of the details of the recently cancelled Apple Festival. However, a lot of work will also involve transferring her knowledge and the accumulation of the years. Getting the staff ready and the office ready for the coming adventures.

Gilmer will cancel the 2020 Apple Festival

Community, News
Festival

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – An email has gone out today with an official statement from the Georgia Apple Festival Board of Directors cancelling the October event for this year, 2020.

Confirming that they will allow vendor fees to rollover to next year’s event or offer refunds upon request, the Festival will be skipped in light of CDC Guidelines and rising numbers in Coronavirus cases. Though they do say they had considered holding the event under those guidelines, the extra costs and restrictions would be too much.

Read the Board of Directors’ full statement as follows:

It is with a heavy heart that the Georgia Apple Festival board of directors announces that the 49th annual Georgia Apple Festival Arts & Crafts show has been cancelled for October 2020. The difficult decision was made following the guidance of the local healthcare community, after consultation with local officials, and with extensive feedback from vendors, volunteers, and local citizens.

The health and well being of all concerned including our volunteers, vendors, and guests was paramount in the decision process. The board also weighed the additional costs and undertaking of trying to produce the event under the current CDC guidelines. It is our belief that the integrity and spirit of the event would suffer and not be profitable for vendors nor provide the type of experience that our guests have come to expect.

All vendors and other stakeholders will receive direct communication from the festival management in the coming days. We ask your patience and understanding as we proceed. Moving forward the board will explore various opportunities to celebrate the fall apple season and that safely enhance and promote Georgia’s apple capital.

We understand the far-reaching impact that this decision will have on the economic well being of our artists, our local businesses and community at large. The impact will also be felt by the two sponsoring agencies, the Ellijay Lions Club and the Gilmer Chamber. The Georgia Apple Festival is the largest fundraiser for both entities and the loss of revenue will be felt deeply by both in their effort to meet the charitable needs of the community supported by the Ellijay Lions Club and the needs of the Gilmer County business community supported by the Gilmer Chamber.

It is our deepest desire that the current health crisis facing our county, state, nation and world will be behind us and that you will make plans to join us October 2021 as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary Georgia Apple Festival.

President of the Gilmer Chamber, Paige Hutto tenders resignation

News

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – FYN has learned today that Gilmer Chamber President and CEO Paige Green has officially tendered her resignation to the Board of Directors.

Paige Green Hutto, President and CEO of the Gilmer Chamber

Green has worked in Gilmer’s Chamber for over 12 years and has worked in tourism for even longer since becoming Tourism Director in Eufaula, Alabama.

According to a release given to FYN since the announcement, Green is returning to her home-state for family including both her husband and parents. Her parents have always played a major part in her life. Hutto explained as much in a featured interview with FYN as she celebrated her 10-year anniversary with the Chamber.

Now, returning to her home state, coworkers are already beginning to speak about the loss that will be felt. However, Hutto will remain with the Chamber for the foreseeable future as the Board of Directors pairs with the Chason Group to find a replacement.

The full press release follows:

Following almost 12 years of service in which she helped build the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce to over 630 members, President and CEO Paige Green Hutto has submitted her resignation to the Board of Directors.

Hutto is making the change to join her new husband in Alabama and take the next step in her life with her new family.

“My love for this community and organization is only usurped by the love of my new husband and family in Alabama and it is time for that life to be whole,” she said. “It is because of that love that I tender my resignation with bittersweet feelings and a somewhat heavy heart.”

In her time at the Chamber, Hutto has presided over a period of exponential tourism growth in Gilmer County and an almost doubling of the organization’s membership. Her leadership has also been instrumental in the formation of the JDA, the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation and CORE- which grew out of a chamber-led trip to a business incubator in Carrollton.

“I hope above all that I will be remembered as someone who gave 100 percent and loved this community and organization and always worked for the betterment of both,” said Hutto.

Board Chair Chris Wang said Hutto will be missed.

“The Gilmer Chamber Board of Directors could not be more thankful of the extraordinary job President Paige Green Hutto has done these last 12 years,” he said. “Every chairperson has been able to walk in to a stronger organization year after year because of the tireless effort she contributed to this Chamber. Personally, Paige is one of the smartest and wisest leaders I have ever worked with. She will be missed greatly by this community and by those who worked beside her.”

Gilmer Chamber’s Board of Directors will work with The Chason Group to conduct a thorough executive search for the next leader of the organization. Hutto has agreed to remain during the search to enable a smooth transition.

“The incoming president not only has fashionable shoes to fill, but a highly competent mind to match. We wish nothing but the absolute best for Paige during this next chapter of her life,” said Wang.

Chamber creates new “Chalk Ellijay” event amid isolations

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Building, coordinating, and energizing a social function can be quite difficult, but doing one amid widespread quarantines and self imposed isolation is a completely different order, such as “Chalk Ellijay.”

We are here to support our community and lift the spirits of those around us. Please tune in until the end of this video for a fun way to stay positive and brighten someone’s day. We have always said that the Gilmer Chamber is a family and now it is time to show our community what this family is all about! #ThisIsEllijay

Posted by Gilmer Chamber on Friday, March 20, 2020

Gilmer County’s Chamber of Commerce has taken on exactly that task as they began a new event over the weekend. After an earlier video post from President/CEO Paige Green promising to help coordinate resources and business in the time of need. But, the video ended on a very different note.

Green said the Chamber’s two locations, the Downtown Welcome Center on the Square in Ellijay and the main office just off 515 in East Ellijay, now have baskets of chalk. What they are pushing to do with this chalk is building community and a neighborhood feeling by using the chalk to “Chalk Ellijay.”

A later post offered more details stating,

“(We get by with a little help from our friends.) In an effort to help lift our community’s spirit, we invite you to chalk your sidewalk or driveway with an encouraging message, snap a picture, and post it using #ThisIsEllijay so the community can see! Need chalk? Visit the downtown welcome center or Chamber office! We have chalk inside buckets for you. (Please only take one or two and leave some for your neighbor!) want to go the extra mile? Leave an encouraging message in the driveway of an at-risk/elderly/immune compromised friend and give them a call afterwards to let them know you’ve been by. (Let’s maintain social distancing 💪🏻) We will get through this together in heart.”

Chalk EllijayThe idea of the chalk use is simple, but social media has been flooded over the last week from across the country with stories and videos of people do small things to build greater feeling and community.

From a man playing music in the common garden of an apartment complex for people to list to from their balconies to signs and gifts of people visiting elderly relatives outside the windows of their homes and apartments.

The local step is incorporating far more than just a few select groups though. The Chamber said, “We are here to support our community and lift the spirits of those around us… We have always said that the Gilmer Chamber is a family and now it is time to show our community what this family is all about!”

People are starting to take to social media, posting their own chalk art and messages, with even a few local businesses and restaurants joining in, too.

Chalk Ellijay

Chamber issues statement on Coronavirus

Community, News

Chamber enters 2020 with annual meeting

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer Chamber is wasting no time in 2020 preparing for another “successful” year as President and CEO Paige Green called 2019.

During their annual meeting, the Chamber recounted many of their successes and honored members with the annual awards before looking to the future with induction of new ambassadors, the passing of the chairman’s gavel, and the new board.

The Chamber did have plenty to celebrate in 2019 according to, now Past-Chair, John Marshall who noted two major projects completed in 2019 when the Chamber cut the ribbon on their Downtown Welcome Center on the square in downtown Ellijay in March and also cut the ribbon on the new CORE (Collaboration On River’s Edge) Facility in July.

Both of these ventures have already seen large numbers of support and activity in 2019 alone with more than 5,500 people visiting the Welcome Center. Additionally, the CORE Facility caught support and acknowledgement from the state the same day it cut the ribbon as they were awarded $425,000 grant for future operation of the facility.

However, these were not the only projects and ribbon cuttings in the year. Marshall went on to note the Chamber cut the ribbon and celebrated the opening of 28 new businesses and welcomed 110 new members to the Chamber.

Also recognizing the successes of 2019, the Chamber awarded several awards including a brand new award that saw its first recipient ever at the banquet meeting.

Tiffany Camp Watson, recipient of the Gilmer Chamber Member of the Year Award for 2019.

Tiffany Camp Watson, recipient of the Gilmer Chamber Member of the Year Award for 2019.

The Chamber awarded Member of the Year to Tiffany Camp Watson. The Chamber said, “Member of the Year is an award given to Chamber members who truly go above and beyond in service to our Chamber and the community as a whole. Tiffany Camp Watson with Endless Ink exemplifies this spirit wholly. Whether it is serving as a Chamber Ambassador, rallying our community to care for those in need, or advocating for causes that matter to her, Tiffany puts her everything into all she does. Congratulations to Tiffany for being named the 2019 Member of the Year!”

 

 

Chattahoochee Technical College, recipient of the Gilmer Chamber Business of the Year Award for 2019.

For 2019’s Business of the Year, the banquet saw Chattahoochee Technical College receive the award. The Chamber said, “Chattahoochee Technical College’s investment in Gilmer County and commitment to equipping Gilmer citizens to enter the workforce is something that we are so thankful for. We consider this awesome institution of energized individuals a true partner in developing Gilmer’s workforce. Congratulations to Chattahoochee Tech for being named the 2019 Business of the year!”

 

 

 

Merle Naylor, recipient of the Gilmer Chamber Citizen of the Year Award for 2019.

Awarding the Citizen of the Year award highlights one specific citizen and their accomplishments in service through the year. This year’s recpient was Merle Naylor. The Chamber said, “Congratulations to our 2019 Citizen of the Year Merle Naylor! With decades of service to Gilmer County, we can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award. Thank you, Merle, for all that you have done for our county and all the children and families who call Gilmer home. Welcome to the COTY family!”

 

 

 

Dr. Shanna Downs, recipient of the Gilmer Chamber Community Champion Award for 2019.

Usually, these three awards are the major awards the Chamber gives for the year. However, 2020 saw the introduction of something new. A brand new award honoring an especially dedicated community member with exceptional genorosity in their communal efforts. In it’s first year ever, the award was given to Dr. Shanna Downs, Superintendent of Gilmer County Schools. The Chamber said, “This year, we unveiled a new award: The Community Champion award. This award is intended to recognize an overall commitment to Gilmer County through collaborative efforts, philanthropy, investment or humanitarian efforts. These four categories that the Community Champion Award encompass come together in the commitment of it’s Inaugural recipient: Dr. Shanna Downs. Since becoming Superintendent of the Gilmer County Charter School System, Dr. Downs has shown an intense commitment not only to her staff and students, but also to our community at large. Thanks to Dr. Downs’ tireless work and dedication, Gilmer County will have a steady pipeline of hardworking and highly-qualified citizens who are ready to pour back into our community for years to come. Congratulations, Dr. Downs!”

Past-Chair John Marshall, left, passes the Chairman’s Gavel to Chris Wang, 2020’s Gilmer Chamber Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Transitioning from 2019 to 2020, the Chamber introduced new Ambassador, a new board, and a new Chairman. During the meeting, Past-Chair John Marshall introduced and then officially passed the Chairman’s gavel to the new Chairman, Chris Wang, agent for State Farm Insurance. Marshall passed the gavel saying, “Chris Wang is wise beyond his years, he has a servant’s heart, and he is brimming with innovation and creative ideas to continue to move our Chamber and  community forward. We are excited about the future with Chris at the helm.”

Additionally, the Chamber later took to social media welcome Wang saying, “We are so excited to have our 2020 Chairman of the Board, Chris Wang, on our team. Chris brings energy and enthusiasm to everything he does and always gives 100%. Chris has been actively involved with the Chamber since he started his business here several years ago and has been investing in our community from day one. Chris has previously participated in Leadership Gilmer, the Ambassador program, and was named the 2017 Member of the Year. Chris, we are so excited to have you on board and can’t wait to see what you do this year!”

 

Apple Blossom Festival Cancelled

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer Chamber and involved parties have officially announced the cancellation of this year’s Apple Blossom Festival.

A mainstay of the spring season for what would have been its sixth year, this will be the first time the festival has been cancelled since it’s start.

According to the Chamber, they have been consulting with local officials and Emergency Management. However, due to weather concerns they stated, “The safety of our vendors and patrons is of the utmost importance as well as the protection of personal property. Given the consistent and worsening weather forecast within the critical 48 hour window we feel this is the best decision for all involved.”

The festival was set to be held this weekend, May 4-5, 2019. Chamber representatives said they could not reschedule the event due to many of the vendors already have full schedules of their own and attempting to reschedule would be prohibitively difficult.

Gilmer Chamber Tourism Manager Accepts New Position

Community
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer Chamber has confirmed that Tourism Manager Karla Roper has accepted a position as Executive Director of the Georgia Wine Producers Association.
Paige Green, President & CEO of the Gilmer Chamber, said,“Karla brings a level of professionalism along with a passion and creative talent to everything she does. Her talents and infectious spirit will be missed. However, we wish her well and look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role.”
Roper started with the Chamber on June 10, 2013. She was originally hired as Communications Manager. Now, she leaves just under six years later.
A search will begin soon for a new tourism manager and the job will be posted at www.gilmerchamber.com.
The Chamber offered the following regarding Roper’s new position, “We are grateful for her many years of dedicated service to our organization, our members and our community.”

Chamber opens Downtown Welcome Center

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is celebrating a five-year-long project completion today with the opening of the Downtown Welcome Center in Ellijay, Georgia.

From left to right, Chamber President Paige Green and Commission Chairman Charlie Paris listen as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston speaks words of congratulations for Gilmer.

From left to right, Chamber President Paige Green and Commission Chairman Charlie Paris listen as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston speaks words of congratulations for Gilmer.

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.

Back left to right, John Marshall, David Ralston, and Trent Sanford. Front left to right, Dallas Miller, Karla Roper, Charlie Paris, Karleen Ferguson, and Paige Green.

Back left to right, John Marshall, David Ralston, and Trent Sanford. Front left to right, Dallas Miller, Karla Roper, Charlie Paris, Karleen Ferguson, and Paige Green.

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.

Brenda Davis, former Director of the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, poses with her picture from the early 90's in front of the Welcome Center.

Brenda Davis, former Director of the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, poses with her picture from the early 90’s in front of the Welcome Center.

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.”

Auto-Renewal will go forward with Chamber Contract

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A not-unexpected turn of events saw the Board of Commissioners (BOC) strike the two items from their agenda on Thursday that involved an Audit and a Contract Termination for the Gilmer Chamber.

Despite this, it doesn’t mean the end of this issue between the two entities. With both sides having agreed that the Hotel/Motel Tax usage by the Chamber is required to have an audit, and moving forward imposing that requirement, a major issue is being resolved. However, it doesn’t mean that citizens won’t be hearing about the issue again in coming sessions.

As Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson stated in their work session, she is wanting to look deeper at the Chamber, the date of the automatic contract renewal, and the Hotel/Motel Tax split. Though most of the discussion at the work session centered on clarifying “if” and “why” a termination would be required to renegotiate the contract and look at some of the expectations from both parties, the lasting issue is still persisting.

Chamber President Paige Green provided a prepared statement on behalf of the Chamber which asked them to reconsider the termination. But much of its points also addressed the issue of changing the split. One sentence stated, “Defunded or reduced funding towards those efforts or even extended negotiation period without resolution will have immediate and long term effects on the great work that has been done to bring us to this point in time.”

Her statement also reaffirms the Chambers commitment to “an open dialogue this year and to answer any questions you have in regards to our efforts.”

The commissioners did not vote down the termination, however. As previously reported in “Chamber Contract in question at BOC,” Ferguson stated several times during the work session that she thought termination was the only way to renegotiate the contract with its pending automatic renewal. Instead of voting down the termination, all three commissioners unanimously approved an agenda change to remove the items from the agenda with the clarification that it was agreed that the audit was required and would start being provided.

This leaves the state of the Gilmer Chamber in a flux of moving forward with an automatic renewal schedule to take effect next week, but knowing that 2019 will be a year in review as the Commissioners look closer at the Hotel/Motel Tax and the Chamber in general.

Ferguson noted during the work session that the Gilmer Chamber holds one of the highest Hotel/Motel tax split-percentages in the state. It was also noted by several chamber members and chamber board members that the Gilmer Chamber was also noted by people across the state as one of the best and most effective chambers.

As both entities move forward in the year, the discussion of the underlying issue will arise. For now, the preamble comes to a close avoiding what Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said would have been “a very, very serious mistake for Gilmer County.”

Chamber contract in question at BOC

News

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.

Chamber names Citizen of the Year

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce held their Annual Meeting this week to both look back and forge ahead in the community.

Part of preparing for the new year includes announcing awards that span both years in their importance. Winners are awarded because of so much they have contributed to the community, honoring the life achievement these citizens and businesses have accomplished. Yet, moving into the new year, they stand as leaders and examples the community may follow.

 

 

This year, Gilmer’s 2018 Member of the Year was named Sally Daniels.

 

 

 

 

 

Piedmont Mountainside received the award for Business of the Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2018 Citizen of the Year award went to Steven Purvis.

 

 

 

Purvis later took to social media saying, “I want to begin by thanking God for giving me the ability and the opportunities that have been laid before me. I want to thank my parents for giving me my work ethic and teaching me that the things you do everyday impact many more people than you will ever know. I want to thank my wife for putting up with me and all my crazy ideas over the years and my kids for challenging me to be a better father and a better person every day. I want to thank the staff at Huff’s and Huff’s Express for all the support and encouragement they have given me over the years and for covering for me all the times I was out and about occupied with different groups. Thank you to all my patients who have supported Huff’s Drug Store over the years and given me the opportunity to practice pharmacy in Ellijay for the last 20 years. I am very humbled by this honor and can only hope that I live up to the standards set for such a prestigious award.”

The day also saw the official transition as Board of Directors Past-Chairman Trent Sanford passed the gavel and position to Chairman John Marshall. The formal transition came mid-meeting before the awards were handed out.

Gilmer Chamber to hold Annual Meeting

Community

The Gilmer Chamber will hold it’s 40th Annual Meeting on Thursday, January 17th, 11:30 AM at First Baptist Church of Ellijay located at 164 Dalton Street. The Chamber is honored to have Georgia State University’s Head Baseball Coach, Greg Frady as the guest speaker. Coach Frady is an Ellijay native who graduated from Gilmer High School in 1981 where he was voted most valuable player on both the baseball and basketball teams his senior year. He was inducted into the Gilmer High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006. In 1987, Coach Frady graduated from Troy State where he received a bachelor’s degree in education and recreation. Coach Frady continued his education at Columbus State where he received his master’s degree in administration in 1989.

Additionally, the Citizen of the Year, Member of the Year and Business of the Year will be announced along with a look back at 2018. The annual meeting will also see the new chamber board and officers installed.

Registration is available online at www.gilmerchamber.com or call 706-635-7400. Business attire is suggested. Cost $25 per person. All are welcome.

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