Ideally, those new chamber board members will be enthusiastic about the chamber’s role in Maggie Valley and make long-term goals to improve the local economy.
Lyndon Lowe, chamber board member and owner of Twinbrook Cabins and RVs, said vision is what the current chamber board has been missing — and if something doesn’t change, he fears the organization won’t be able to survive another 50 years.
“I think this is one of the most important elections the Maggie chamber has ever had — it’s going to determine what the Maggie chamber will be in the future, what partners we’ll work with and how we’ll conduct business,” Lowe said. “The next board seated is going to have to take on the responsibility of figuring out exactly what our goals will need to be.”
Longtime Chamber Chairman Joe Moody, along with board members Tammy Brown and Mike Patel, will all come off the board in August. Six new names will be considered for the positions and the 180-plus business membership will vote on new board members.
Lowe will continue to serve on the board along with Myra Glover (1st Choice Realtors/Maggie Valley Vacations), Brad Pendley (Maggie Mountaineer Crafts), Donna Mahoney (J Arthur’s Restaurant), Nancy Helsel (Maggie Valley ABC Store) and Melissa Pless (Premier Vacation Rentals).
An evaluation of goals is periodically needed in all organizations — especially those that have been around more than 50 years — but the business community has made it clear it wants some things to change if the chamber wants to continue to get their support.
“Our chamber has to figure out what its future goals are,” Lowe said. “If we’re going to be separate from the Haywood chamber, we need to have a clear reason why. We still have to keep reinventing ourselves based on the economy like the Haywood chamber has.”
Gabi Edwards, co-owner of Holiday Hotel, said she is still a member of the chamber, but mainly because if she wasn’t, her hotel wouldn’t be listed on the chamber’s popular website or the visitor guide.
“I think our chamber benefits are from the website and visitors guide, however the visitors guide leads are untraceable,” Edwards said. “I have never had anybody tell me that is how they founds us.”
On the other hand, Edwards is also a member of the Maggie Valley Area Lodging Association so her hotel gets a listing on its website. For a third of the cost of the chamber membership, Edwards said, she gets twice the amount of leads from the lodging association website.
Another point of contention with Edwards and other businesses in Maggie Valley is that the chamber is basically a tourism marketing organization, but it is only marketing its members and everyone else is left out. Chambers have always been a membership-based entity — membership fees buy a business certain perks whether it’s marketing, training or networking. However, members-only advertising becomes an issue for non-members when the chamber’s website acts as the primary hub for tourism inquiries and the chamber’s visitor guide that is distributed to welcome centers across the state.
“One problem I see is that the Maggie Valley Chamber only benefits its members and not all lodging establishments who contribute to the lodging tax collection,” Edwards said. “I think that was the problem with funding the visitors guide, because the non-member lodgings are not included in the guide/website even though they are paying the tax.”
Edwards was referring to the chamber’s $14,000 request to the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority to pay for the administrative cost (the executive director’s salary) associated with the visitor guide. The TDA denied the chamber’s request for occupancy tax funding to use toward the visitor guide expense, a decision Edwards agrees with.
“I absolutely think our lodging tax should not be paying member-driven association employees’ salaries. As I said about the visitors guide, it wouldn’t be fair to the nonmembers, especially since they sell advertising in that guide to fund it,” she said.
Clarketon Motel co-owner Tammy Wight, who is also the president of the Maggie Valley Area Lodging Association and a Maggie Valley representative on the TDA board, said she had submitted her name as a board member nominee for the chamber and didn’t wish to comment on this story other than to say she did want to see some changes made to the chamber.
Lowe said it wasn’t surprising that Maggie Valley business owners didn’t want to comment on a story about the chamber because they don’t want to risk the chance of losing recommendations and leads from the chamber.
“I have had countless chamber members call and email me with complaints but would not go on record for fear of retaliation,” he said. “I encouraged them to come forward as an anonymous complaint is just about worthless and very seldom will get action, but no one would come forward.”
He hopes this concern is resolved with a few new people on the board so businesses feel open to sharing their concerns and ideas for improvement. If not, he is concerned businesses will decide not to renew their memberships next year, which could have a negative impact on the chamber.
“As you know, membership-based organizations are not rolling in cash, and a simple change in our finances — like a 10-percent drop in membership — can be the difference between having enough funds to pay an executive director full-time or part-time,” Lowe said.
New board members will be announced at the chamber’s annual dinner and awards ceremony, which will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9, at the Maggie Valley Club.