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Looking Back, Giving Back, Planning For The Future

Kathleen Hawkins Reflects on Four Years Leading the Hendersonville Area Chamber of Commerce

What an honor and a privilege it has been to serve at the helm of the Hendersonville Area Chamber of Commerce over the last four years. It’s such a blessing to watch our members prosper, our community come together and our schools flourish.

Having been an entrepreneur myself, I know firsthand how critical it is to feel as though you are in business for yourself, but just not by yourself. Because of my past experiences, I felt that our Chamber needed to expand the opportunities for members to come together and network, support one another, mastermind and create strategic alliances. To be relevant, we had to go beyond monthly meetings and networking groups to help our local businesses achieve their goals. Accordingly, we began exploring innovative ways to provide our members with benefits and services.

During January 2019, we launched our first “Chamber University” classes. These classes are open to our members and any of their employees free of charge, and are available to non-members for minimal fees. They provide valuable information to help educate and inspire business teams, and they also include a certificate of completion that can be translated into continuing education credits at many of our local colleges.

To support our businesses and our community even further, we redesigned our City Guide, and we created an all-new Business Guide. The City Guide provides valuable information to our current citizens and it serves as an important tool for new businesses and residents seeking to relocate to Hendersonville. The Business Guide provides a one-stop source for knowledge and contacts that our members need in order to grow their business in our city.

Another key initiative was the creation of new processes to match up our member businesses with persons seeking employment. Between adding a much-needed job board to our website and the creation of a “Hendersonville is Hiring” Facebook page, we are committed to helping local businesses find the talent they need and to keep our community working.

Though our mission is to help local businesses grow and prosper, we are also passionate about helping people find and feel their sense of community. Events such as Freedom Festival, Taste of Hendersonville, Women Impacting the Community and Sumner Fest provide outstanding opportunities for us to serve our member businesses and our community. Each of these events has doubled in size since my arrival with the help of an amazing team, great volunteers and a very supportive Chamber board.

Though our No. 1 goal is helping our members grow and our community prosper, we also know that it is imperative that we remember those who need our help, even if they are not in our own backyard. From the Gatlinburg fire in 2016 to the recent tornado outbreak across Middle Tennessee, we have worked hard to help raise many thousands of dollars in goods and cash for affected businesses and individuals.

Despite all of our accomplishments, I am most proud of our Golden Apple event that benefits local schools and teachers. From creating new programs, to purchasing stage lighting, to helping fund STEM certification efforts, we are making a real difference in our schools. Since my arrival, we have gifted over $96,000 in teacher grants, thanks to the generosity of our members and our community.

Recently, the Hendersonville Area Chamber celebrated its 50th Anniversary. We have had a terrific half-century, and I know that greater things are yet to come. Join me as we move forward into the future!