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Haywood, Maggie Valley chambers reach out to each other

The boards of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce and Maggie Valley Visitor Center and Convention Bureau met last week to discuss the prospect of joining forces.

“It only makes sense that groups working together can do more than ones working on their own,” Jeff Schumacher, chairman of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, said in a press release. “We have gone too many years now trying to do it in bits and pieces, and I am hopeful that we are forming a relationship that will be beneficial to all businesses and residents.”

The step is a milestone for two entities that historically have viewed themselves in competition with one another for members, money, tourists, and even political clout. Business owners who are members of both chambers say they would prefer to see the two chambers merge.

Gary Lance, owner of LN Davis Insurance in Waynesville, benefits financially from having two chambers. He carries the insurance policy for both of them. But even Lance said a joint chamber should be considered.

“From a non-selfish point of view, I think having only one chamber would be more beneficial to the county,” Lance said.

Lance said they would have to reconcile slightly different missions, however.

“The Maggie chamber is more of a convention bureau and more tourism oriented,” Lance said.

Both boards are being cautious, avoiding any reference to the word “merger.” A press release that followed last week’s meeting merely cited a new spirit of cooperation between the two chambers. They appear poised for more than just handshaking and a pledge to get along better, however. At the joint meeting, four committees — marketing, finance, current events and future events — were tasked with hammering out logistics for how the two groups could work together on a number of projects.

It’s about time, according to some business owners who are members of both groups.

“As a businessman I think you have to support your chambers,” said Richard Gays, owner of Hughes Lighting in Maggie Valley. But Gays said the two chambers should not be competing.

“I would love to see more cooperation,” Gays said. “I would like to see the two chambers get more together, and that’s a very hard thing to do because everybody watches out for themselves.”

Like Gays, Chuck Cummings, owner of Countrytime Swings in Maggie, is a member of both chambers.

“We just feel like we want to give back to the community and support both chambers,” Cummings said. “As far as the benefits, I can’t say that we see anything. We get a bill from each one. I’d love for them to join. They could only send me one bill.”

For some business owners, deciding which chamber to join can be a toss up. Those who join just one usually join the Haywood Chamber, like Jimmy Powell, owner of Canton Hardwood.

“Being in Canton, Haywood County seemed more along my line,” Powell said. “I’m just trying to be a good citizen.”


Closing the divide

The feeling among some Maggie Valley tourism business owners is that the Haywood chamber is Waynesville-heavy or Waynesville-centric. Rikki Thomas, owner of Rikki Tikki Tees in Waynesville and a member of both chambers, said he has noticed Maggie does not have a strong presence within in the Haywood Chamber.

“It think maybe the Maggie Chamber people chose not to participate as much in the Haywood one,” Thomas said. “I found it was somewhat peculiar there was a chamber with not a lot of Maggie participants. It would be nice to see a Haywood County chamber that was inclusive of everyone.”

The Haywood Chamber’s office and visitor center were located in downtown Waynesville until three years ago when it was moved out of town — in part to prove it wasn’t Waynesville-centric. Whether the attempt to quell that image has actually garnered new support from Maggie business owners is unclear, however.

Some Maggie business owners join the Maggie Chamber by default, not because it they feel an affinity toward it.

Don Brackett, owner of Chalet Inn, is a member of the Maggie Chamber only. He said he has no affiliation to the Maggie Chamber over the Haywood Chamber. He just wants his hotel’s name listed on the chamber Web site under accommodations. If there was just one chamber, he would belong to that one.

“I would think one would suffice,” Brackett said. “If they can do something more efficient, it would make no difference to me if they combined them. Waynesville and Maggie should work together better than they do.”

Meanwhile, Bob McElveen belongs to the Haywood Chamber and not the Maggie Chamber, even though he is owner of the Maggie-based Bear Run Log Cabins. McElveen said it makes more sense to have one chamber.

“It would be cheaper for them to operate. I don’t see why it couldn’t be bigger and have a lot more chamber members,” McElveen said. “If there was just one chamber, we would probably belong to it.”

And Carol Burrell, owner of Maggie Valley Creekside Lodge in Maggie, belongs to both.

“As a business, I feel a corporate responsibility to support both chambers,” Burrell said. Burrell said each chamber offers slightly different advantages.

Burrell, who is also on the Maggie Chamber board of directors, said the time is right for the two chambers to put aside past differences.

“It can work with open-mindedness and a fresh, new perspective of Haywood County,” Burrell said.

This summer Maggie Valley hired a new executive director, Lynn Collins, with an impressive resume in tourism as the director of a $14 million tourism authority in Florida. The Haywood Chamber board is meanwhile pleased with its success under CeCe Hipps, who last year was hired away from the Asheville Chamber of Commerce to come here.

“We feel we have found the perfect combination of leadership in place to move forward with a unified objective,” Teresa Smith, chairperson of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, said in the press release.

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