By TIM HORAN
Where the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce is headed is more important than where it has been.
That was the message at the 85th Annual Banquet of the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday night at the Abilene Elk’s Club.
Kelly Cooper, chairman of the board for 2013, spoke “about where we have been as a Chamber and, more importantly, where we are headed.”
“It’s really not about what we have done in the past year,” he said. “It’s about what we are going to do in the next 12 months. We have a lot to do.”
Cooper, along with Glenda Purkis, director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, and David Dillner, Abilene city manager, all spoke with that similar theme.
“The past couple years the chamber board has realized that times are changing,” Cooper said. “What worked 20 years ago, 10 years ago, maybe even five years ago may not work today, and often doesn’t. The economy has changed. How we do business has changed. How we do community has changed, as well the level of busyness in our lives. I am sure that many of you that have kids or teenagers can relate to that.”
He said the mission statement of the chamber is to positively impact the economic vitality of the Abilene area through advocacy and servant leadership.
“There has never been a better time to do that than now,” he said. “The question isn’t, ‘do you belong to the chamber?’ Most of you do. The question is, “does the chamber belong to you?” You have a stake in this community. Are you willing to take ownership of the collaborating process that will move us all forward?
He said board meetings are amicable but often spirited.
“We have such a diverse group of board members with different temperaments, talents and conditions, as well as coming from different business backgrounds,” Cooper said. “We have real estate, agriculture, greyhound industry, banking, insurance, media, marking, service and retail, military and education, all represented, all bringing experience and expertise from different walks of life to help fulfill our vision which is to be a long collaborative organization improving the economic vitality of the Abilene area. We will accomplish this.”
He mentioned several 2012 events. The chamber brought in Kansas State University football Coach Bill Snyder to Abilene, hosted six business afterhours and had several education opportunities based on business requests.
“The Chamber board spent much of the year evaluating and determining the future direction of the Chamber, and working with the city and county in developing an economic development plan for Abilene,” he added.
Glenda Purkis, director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, pointed out that in the works is for the chamber to move the office to the Abilene Civic Center. The Chamber building located on Buckeye Avenue is for sale.
“I envision that next year there will be community members from Hope, Solomon, Herington, Chapman, Manchester, Enterprise and make this truly a county event,” she said. “We have heard the word collaboration several times tonight. Over the last several months I’ve hear it hundreds of times. It’s all good conversation but that is what this evening and this New Year is all about.
“I would guess that every chamber has faced the question of relevance. Are we relevant today? Some survived and those that have survived are operating differently than those that didn’t. Change is very important. Those that have survived have become value added organizations but their value added is certainly different that it was 30 years ago,” Purkis said.
She said a chamber of commerce is important to a community.
“I have seen all kinds of structures for chambers of commerce but the one thing that has remained constant is that when someone has a question or wants information about the community, about a business, about a service, they are going to call the chamber. Every community in the U.S. has a chamber of commerce. They ( the callers) don’t care about the structure,” she said. “They go to the phone book and call to get their questions answered. When the call comes and that question is asked we have to be there to answer them property. In this collaborative effort we are not going to allow structure to be the issue. We will share office space. We will share that space and when someone calls or comes to the front door, he or she will get an answer to that question.”
City Manager David Dillner read the poem “The Road Not Taken” by David Frost.
“The poem really speaks to me right now because, in my mind, the city, the county, the chamber, the school district: we are this person right here, right now in this poem,” he said. “This individual is walking in the forest. He comes to the place were there are two paths, a Y in the road. We’ve all been there before. The individual says, which way shall I go? Should I go on the one that is obviously cleared and obviously walked on, that I know where I am going?
“Or do I go down the path that is not so clear. It’s perhaps covered over with weeds and tall grass and I have to get a machete out and I have to hack and whack. We as a city, as a chamber, as a community have to choose which road we go down.
“The good news is that we have the resources right here in this room, in this community to lead to prosperity,” Dillner said. “Because that is what we are here to talk about. We are not here to talk about the past We are here to talk about what the future of the community looks like.”
He said the city, county, chamber, CVB have all crafted plans.
“But we can’t have individual plans; we have to have A plan. One plan. Because some of us can’t go down the path that is clearly trodden while some of us go down the path that is overgrown. We have to decide which path is best for all of us.”
He talked about the draft of the Abilene’s Economic Development Plan and asked for comments.
“I have been here two years now and I will tell you that I am pretty confident that the city of Abilene will move forward as a community,” Dillner said.
The Chamber also announced the winners of its 2012 awards.
The Quite Hero Award is someone who has helped a non-profit organization in the community without fanfare, but had quietly donated their time, talents or money to make that entity better. That award went to Pat Sweeney.
The Volunteer of the Year Award goes to someone who had volunteered their time and talents to an organization, non-profit organization or the community. That award went to Diane Miller.
The Distinguished Citizen Award is someone who has established themselves as a productive citizen in the community, been involved and is successful in civic organizations and/or public service and continues to benefit the community with their talents. That award went to Dave Bergmeier.
The Distinguished Business Person of the Year Award is someone who has taken a lead role in the business community, offers support to other businesses and supports community event and organization. That award went to Tim Holm.
The Ag Business of the Year Award is for an individual or business that has shown organizational growth and success, high standards of excellence, innovation and incorporation of new research and technology, and significant contributions to the agriculture industry and community. Dr. Mike Whitehair was presented with that award.