By Stephen Smoot
More than a hundred attendees traveled to Swilled Dog Distillery on a blustery night last week to help the Pendleton County Chamber of Commerce celebrate 20 years of community service. The community was also introduced to the new executive director, Elizabeth Scott.
After a social hour featuring Justin Hemsley, a talented 16-year-old country singer and guitar player, Scott addressed the crowd. The assemblage included business owners from Pendleton and surrounding counties, county elected officials, nonprofit directors, local athletic head coaches, and more.
Attendees enjoyed sumptuous surroundings at Swilled Dog with the opportunity to taste their bourbon products. Scott said later that “they were very happy that we asked them to host.” Catering company Country Roads provided a lavish buffet dinner with chicken, ham, green beans, mashed potatoes and more.
Scott later explained that she was impressed with the variety in attendance and enjoyed seeing representatives from such diverse fields interacting.
To open the speaking part of the event, Scott laid out her vision for the chamber of commerce. The first goal, she explained, “is to grow the membership.” Her vision in accomplishing that goal lies primarily in providing assistance to the local business community through “giving members the best possible places to network, advertise, and do job fairs.”
Connecting employers to effective workforce training also serves as an important goal. Scott said later that some businesses have employees that lack computer skills and offered “maybe we can work with Eastern to develop training. A lot is taught in high school, but we need more.”
“Our job is to help your business grow and advertise,” Scott explained.
Bill Loving, president of Pendleton Community Bank, came on next as guest speaker. He commenced with a brief introduction to the history of chambers of commerce, explaining that they first emerged in 1599 France. Although chambers have evolved over the centuries, Loving said, “bringing everyone together is one of the big benefits.”
He added that chambers of commerce provide opportunities to “develop relationships with people who have the same interests” and help “businesses to put their heads together and make it work.”
Loving helped to found the Pendleton County Chamber of Commerce in 2002. He stated that in his experience, big successes are “not accomplished on day one, but in little steps over time. Loving closed his remarks with “what you’re doing is planting the seeds for tomorrow.”
Kristin Dingess, chairperson of the chamber board of directors responded to Loving, “You’re giving back in so many ways. I want to thank you.”
The chamber awards commenced on an emotional note as Scott announced that the late Carole Hartman would receive the Lifetime Achievement Memorial Award. Her daughter, Heidi Hartman, came to the podium to accept the award, expressing first “how lucky she was to have all of you in her life.” She added that serving Pendleton County, “made her life incredibly full and rich beyond measure.”
Next came the Corner Stone, the “highest chamber business award,” the winner being recognized for both profitability and improving the area’s quality of life. Pendleton Community Bank earned the honor. The chamber’s small business of the year award went to Raymond’s Gymnastics. This recognition goes to a business “with under 10 employees that positively benefits the community” and provides “outstanding service.”
Scott presented the Pendleton County Fire Association with the award for nonprofit of the year. Trent Alt, president of the association, rose to collect the award, then said, “without the support of local businesses and members of the community, the fireman’s association could not survive.”
The chamber also awarded Barb Hamilton the outstanding volunteer for her work in the community and with Mountaintop Ministries. April Mallow, county prosecutor, was honored for leadership, team building, and networking as young professional of the year.
One of the key changes in the chamber comes in the person of their new executive director. Scott said, “we have not done justice to our business community the past few years.” She added that “I’ve been a board member for the last four and a half years. I was serving as director in the interim when we didn’t have anyone. I want to help our community any way I can.”
One innovation Scott foresees implementing is “more small networking groups” to help businesses in the same or similar fields work together to overcome challenges.” The tri-counties’ meet and greet open houses to showcase regional businesses and nonprofits may soon return.
She also emphasized conducting outreach to see what county businesses need to boost both profits and resilience, stating that “we’re just trying to find what they need”