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Kathleen Hawkins

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Onward and Upward

Local Professional Leads One of Tennessee's Largest and Fastest Growing Chambers of Commerce

One of the linchpins for a healthy business environment is the presence of a dedicated chamber of commerce. From advocacy to education to managing business and governmental relations, chambers are vital to the success of local communities.

The City of Hendersonville is blessed to have one of the largest and most effective chambers in Tennessee – the Hendersonville Area Chamber of Commerce. Led by President and CEO Kathleen Hawkins, the Hendersonville Chamber is committed to providing critical support to local businesses to help them achieve their goals.

Along with its business advocacy mission, the Hendersonville Chamber is also an important player in the community at large, as demonstrated through such initiatives as the recent Hendersonville Rising tornado relief concert, special recognition events such as the Golden Apple, Women Impacting Business and Men Impacting Business award ceremonies and popular annual events such as the annual July Freedom Festival.

Since her arrival in 2016, Kathleen has made an indelible impact upon Hendersonville that resonates across the community. Recently, Hendersonville Lifestyle sat down with her to learn about her background, what drives her and her plans for the Chamber’s future.

What drew you to the world of chambers of commerce?

“After college, I began my career teaching marketing and business courses. Before long, I met and married my husband, Jeff, who was then a professional photographer. After working with him in his business, I discovered how much marketing and financial training that was needed by photographers, as well as other small business owners.

Subsequently, I decided that I wanted to dedicate myself to helping businesses gain the skills that they need to succeed. After writing and publishing nine books and spending some time on the business speaking circuit, I finally realized that I could provide the most help by working in business advocacy. Since then, I have been managing professional membership organizations for eighteen years.”

What makes Hendersonville so special for you?

“When I interviewed for my position at the Chamber, I was immediately impressed with everything that Hendersonville offered for me and my family. Schools, parks, the lake – it seemed to be such a great place to call home. However, it didn’t take me long before I realized that the best part of Hendersonville is its people, and the relationships and sense of connection and support that they provide to one another.”

Who was your mentor?

“I was privileged to learn from Allen Chernoff. Alan was a wealthy, retired New York businessman who took me under his tutelage. He generously offered his time and wisdom to inspire, coach and mentor me in the world of business.”

What has been your biggest challenge in growing the Chamber?

“Like most membership organizations, growing a chamber requires constant diligence and overcoming obstacles. At the end of the day, it is important that Chamber members and prospective members see value in their investment. From keeping existing members actively engaged to enticing new businesses to join, the Chamber must always be working hard to show its constituents a demonstrable return on their investments. The Chamber must always provide valuable services to its members that justify their annual membership fees.

At the Hendersonville Chamber, we accomplish these goals by adapting to the changing business environment by providing relevant resources, services and networking opportunities. We also strive to ensure that our infrastructure, systems and processes can continue to scale as our membership base increases. We address this challenge through a combination of strategic planning, member outreach, prudent financial management and a keen focus on our value proposition.”

What are you most proud of about the Chamber?

“I am most proud of the many ways in which we are able to serve our business community. For example, on Dec. 9, we experienced a devastating tornado that resulting in the damage or destruction of 132 of our local businesses. While the event was tragic, we were able to respond to help our neighbors in need. I am truly honored that we were able to raise $225,000 to provide grants for financial assistance to those companies who needed our help.”

What are your top priorities for the Chamber over the next few years? 

“In order to keep the Chamber growing and thriving, I have three key goals. First, I want to see us to continue to create a personalized experience for members in which they experience ongoing value through professional development, education, marketing and networking. Second, I want to develop a comprehensive compensation package for chamber employee that will allow us to attract, retain and reward top talent. Finally, I want to establish a Hendersonville Chamber event center. This center will provide a diverse hub with a flexible layout that will provide dedicated space for chamber offices, training rooms and provide a central location to host Chamber and community events.”

Since 2016, local businesswoman Kathleen Hawkins has served as the President and CEO of the Hendersonville Area Chamber of Commerce. Under her leadership, the Hendersonville Chamber has grown to become the 5th largest business advocacy organization in Tennessee. Every day, local companies ranging from sole proprietors to large corporations are prospering in part due to efforts of Kathleen and her Chamber team.

During the Covid era, Kathleen was instrumental in the creation of the Thrive 37075 branding campaign to promote local shopping. Since its inception, Thrive 37075 has helped many local businesses to continue to grow and prosper.  In addition, the program has also generated additional sales tax revenue which has helped to fund roads, fire stations, first responders and schools.

Along with providing support and education for local businesses, Kathleen has also been instrumental in organizing putting on numerous community events, including annual Freedom Fest, Taste of Hendersonville and Magnolia Market.

Kathleen and her husband Jeff have three children, and they reside locally.

"Change is inevitable in life, and learning to adapt and embrace new situations can lead to personal growth and resilience."

Kathleen Hawkins

  • Kathleen Hawkins
  • Kathleen Hawkins, President & CEO - Hendersonville Chamber
  • Kathleen Hawkins accepts a donation check for tornado relief.
  • Kathleen Hawkins and the Chamber put on Hendersonville's largest event - the annual Freedom Festival.