History of Clarksville Chamber
|Clarksville-Montgomery County Population|
In 1905, Clarksville had a population of 9,000. At the time there was an active Business Men’s League which, with the encouragement of a Chattanooga businessman, evolved into the Chamber of Commerce. The organization was chartered August 5, 1905 to “labor for a Greater Clarksville.”
With an initial motto of More Smokestacks & Whistles, led by M.A. Stratton, and headquartered in the Arlington Hotel, the Chamber was active in new business recruitment and community development.
- In 1915, a group of 200 traveled by train to Evansville and lobbied for Clarksville to be included in the Dixie Bee Highway route, a proposed 5,706- mile road connecting Ontario to Miami.
- In 1940, the Chamber took the lead in getting multiple road projects built: Hwy 41-A, the Red River bridge, and the Cumberland River bridge.
- In 1954, Clarksville was one of the first communities in the nation to participate in the Federal government’s urban renewal program. A $5 million project provided demolition of sub-standard housing along the Cumberland and construction of Riverside Drive.
Austin Peay Relations
Very early in its history, the Chamber formed a standing committee to “look after the interests” of Southwestern Presbyterian University, located at the present Austin Peay State University campus. In 1927, the Chamber spearheaded the drive that brought Austin Peay to Clarksville, which officially opened as Austin Peay Normal School in September 1929.
Fort Campbell Relations
In 1930 it was noted that “99 percent of the population was native born.” Within a mere 15 years, that statistic would be forever changed by the presence of Camp Campbell.
Even prior to Camp Campbell’s permanent designation as Fort Campbell in 1950, the Chamber’s Military Affairs Committee worked to ensure good relations between the community and the post. In its 150th-year edition November 15, 1958, The Leaf-Chronicle wrote, “The Chamber’s greatest achievement, perhaps, was the part it played in helping bring Fort Campbell to Clarksville.”
The Chamber partnered with local governments and civic organizations to aggressively promote the community to prospective business and industry.
Early efforts resulted in the recruitment of:
- Acme Manufacturing
- American Cigar Company
- Gresham Shirt Company
- B.F. Goodrich
After World War II the Chamber launched a concerted marketing effort that promoted Clarksville’s hospital climate, large labor pool, cheap electricity, and good transportation. In the late 1940’s, these efforts were quickly rewarded with the location of:
- Simpson Stone Co.
- Frosty Morn
- Kraft Foods
To prove its serious intentions, the Chamber purchased a 100-acre site, on which the Trane plant was constructed and opened in 1958.
Accomplishments of the 1960’s:
- Tobacco continued its reign as king of the local economy
- Wilma Rudolph was named the Associated Press “Top Woman Athlete”
- The city of Clarksville presented a proposal to annex New Providence
- Major General William C. Westmoreland had just completed a tour of duty as Fort Campbell’s commanding general
- The Trane Company completed a 120,000 square-foot expansion for less than $1 million, doubling the size of its plant
- A second optional route was announced for Interstate 24, connecting Nashville to St. Louis
While these issues and accomplishments may have been unique to the early 60’s; other issues of the day are still in the public agenda some 40 years later: downtown parking, ongoing industrial recruitment, and both an influx and deployment of troops at Fort Campbell.
The Chamber was politically active with a 25-member government affairs committee. Transportation, military affairs, education, industrial recruitment, merchant relations, and downtown revitalization were all areas in which the Chamber was especially active. In 1964, the Chamber moved to 312 Madison Street.
Within two years of its location to Clarksville, the Trane Company doubled the size of its plant. This 116,500-square-foot expansion in 1960 cost $910,000. Prior to Trane’s location, the Chamber purchased 100 acres of land across from the plant’s site for potential industrial development. Members expressed “considerable opposition” to the initial purchase price of $300 per acre. After Trane located in Clarksville, members “cheerfully authorized” the purchase of more adjoining land at more than three times that price.
Throughout the decade, the company expanded two more times and also announced the location of a separate $4.5 million plant to produce industrial and commercial air conditioning units. A 1969 Leaf Chronicle editorial stated, “In landing the new Trane plant for Clarksville, every local citizen owes a debt of gratitude tot he Clarksville-Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.”
In 1964, the Industrial Commission of Montgomery County, now the Industrial Development Board, was formed to purchase land and provide incentives for industrial prospects. The Chamber’s industrial recruitment committee maintained its role as the primary industrial recruiting entity.
The Chamber’s military affairs committee remains one of the organization’s most active groups, with welcome and farewell functions for all top post officials. In 1960, MG William C. Westmoreland was honored at a farewell dinner after completing a two-year tour as commanding general at the post. In 1961, 16 reservists and National Guard units arrived at Fort Campbell for a National Defense Build-Up. By December of 1967, the last of the 101st Airborne troops had deployed to Vietnam. Upon their return in 1969, Fort Campbell was designated as home base for the 101st Airborne Division.
At a farewell dinner as the Navy and Marine Corps bases closed in 1969, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Kendrick praised Clarksville’s support. “The greatest compliment anyone can pay a military man is to invite him into their homes to participate in their lives. The people of Clarksville have paid us this compliment.”
The Chamber and city of Clarksville also received national recognition from the 101st Airborne Association. During the group’s convention in 1965, the Chamber hosted a barbecue dinner for the entire group at Dunbar Cave.
The Chamber was recognized throughout the decade by The Leaf-Chronicle, state, and city officials for its proactive role in advocating for transportation and infrastructure projects. The Chamber took the lead in getting Hwy 41-A built between Clarksville and Nashville and was actively involved in the process for construction of Interstate 24. Other major projects during the decade included the bypass from Hwy 12 to 41A and a new Cunningham Bridge on Hwy. 13.
The Chamber was actively involved in obtaining a $2 million grant for urban renewal that provided expansion opportunities for Austin Peay State University, which was granted University status September 1, 1967. Chamber leaders also assisted in the purchase of the Sevier Station property.
Chamber President Matt Rudolph spearheaded efforts to apply for a federal grant to aid in developing a 146-acre recreational park, now Fairgrounds Park.
The Chamber’s annual emphasis of Bargain Days to help downtown merchants, was renamed Clarksville Greater Value Days. The “three-day shopping bonanza” was promoted to surrounding counties. Merchants experienced record sales in 1968, with one stated that the May event was “just like Christmas.”
Recognizing the Chamber during National Chamber Week, a Leaf-Chronicle editor wrote, “The Clarksville-Montgomery County Chamber has done yoemen service to this whole community. Without it Clarksville would be a much smaller and poorer city.”
Milestones of the 1970’s:
- First Executive Director, Larry Welch, hired
- Jostens announces plans to build a plant in Clarksville
- Executive Director Walton Griffin appointed
- Jersey Minere Zinc announces plans to come to Clarksville
- Union Cabide announces plans to come to Clarksville
- Troops begin returing to Fort Campbell from Vietnam
- Jack Turner lead a successful one day fundraiser to fund the building of a new Chamber building, which gave members a positive “look what we can do” attitude
- Acme Boot opened a new manufacturing plant and shipping warehouse
- In 1979 the state legislature passed a 3% hotel/motel tax. The revenue was split between the Tourist Commission and the city/county general fund, which in turn was dedicated to efforts that helped promoted tourism. The first check received by the Tourist Commission in December 1979 was $3,788.02.
Clarksville’s economy in 1970 was less than ideal – as was sentiment about the Chamber. The 101st Airborne Division was in Vietnam, Fort Campbell was reduced to a training center and Chamber membership was down. The top priority for 1970 was to hire a full-time Executive Director who would lead the Chamber and industrial recruitment. After much advocating with both members and local government the Chamber’s first director, Larry Welch, was hired in October 1970.
In 1973, a major focus was relationships. Right off the bat, Chamber President Perkins Freeman met with city and county leaders, union leaders, and the school superintendent. “To their surprise, we found that we all had the same top priorities…we all wanted the same things – new and better roads, new industry, and improvements in the skills of our high school graduates.”
Possibly the first “workforce development” initiative was launched as 40 businessmen met with school superintendent Turley Oakley to discuss how the education system could better meet the needs of local employers. The Chamber also hosted a BBQ so members could get to know all new school system teachers and Austin Peay faculty.
Thanks to the troop return and two new industrial announcements in a relatively short period of time, Clarksville escaped the effects of a national recession in the mid-1970’s. The Chamber and the community gained a deeper realization of the economic engine of Fort Campbell and also the importance of Austin Peay, both economically and culturally.
“Clarksville has all these advantages – Fort Campbell, Austin Peay, location, river transportation, proximity to Nashville. Some communities have one or two, but we have all these assets that work for us in economic development and help keep us balanced during times of national economic volatility,” said Turner, Chamber president in 1975. “Just as economic development is the key topic today, so it was then and so it will forever be.”
Another top priority for Turner, then and now, is the practicing the concept of regionalism. He worked to advocated the importance of our geographic advantage to Nashville – not viewing them as an economic threat, but seeing the opportunities if key business leaders would become involved and better known within the Nashville business community. And, he also looked north. He and Chamber Director Walton Griffin held a “clandestine” meeting with the director of the Hopkinsville Chamber to open dialog between the two communities about issues of mutual interest, primarily Fort Campbell. “Opportunities come only from contacts, connections, and open communication links,” he says.
Fortunately today, the Chamber enjoys exceptional relationships with both the Nashville and Hopkinsville Chambers, and has capitalized on many opportunities that only those positive and proactive connections could have provided.
In 1977, the Chamber emphasized its relationships with Austin Peay and Fort Campbell more than ever. The University, led by President Robert Riggs and Finance VP Fred Williams, was in a growth mode and the Chamber actively supported the Tower Club and Foundation.
Two main priorities were the establishment of a Port Authority, which was an objective of the Chamber for many years to come, and the construction of a Civic Center. In what would be repeated again in the Chamber’s future, the Civic Center issue became a political battle and an election issue.
Highlights from the 1980’s:
- A 1,600 square foot addition was made to the building that included new board and large meeting rooms, a larger reception area, and additional storage space.
- The Chamber worked diligently to prepare for the community’s 200th anniversary in 1984
- The Chamber endorsed the city’s purchase of the vacant Department of Electricity as the site for a community museum, as well as the restoration of the L & N Train Station.
- The Chamber sponsored the first ever Community Carol Sing and Christmas Tree Lighting on Public Square
- The Chamber honored public servant of 70 years, Halbert Harvill, former senator, soldier, businessman, and APSU president upon his retirement
- The Chamber assisted the School System in officially chartering the Adult Literacy Council
- Members worked with Austin Peay to raised funds for it’s Roy Acuff Chair of Excellence, hosting a luncheon at which Sarah Ophelia Cannon, “Minnie Pearl,” was the guest speaker
- Small Business Committee produced the first handbook on starting a business in Clarksville, a publication which is still in print
- Clarksville chapter of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), which assists small businesses was organized
- Groundbreaking and eventual opening of Governors Square Mall, causing the biggest retail explosion Clarksville had seen
- The 5th Special Forces Group was added to the contingent stationed at Fort Campbell
- The Chamber developed an APSU faculty award for community service, which continues to be awarded annually
- First group of diplomats organized, later known as the Chamber Ambassadors, to serve as a Public Relations entity of the Chamber
In 1983, “A Time for Action” was the theme among the 16 Chamber committees. Eventually the Chamber expanded a previously launched “Clarksville is Best” campaign to include “Why” Clarksville is best. It was a major effort that would be targeted to reach every citizen encouraging them to support Clarksville businesses and activities.
The Education Committee worked with Austin Peay to help increase enrollment and sent 700 letters to applicants encouraging them to attend the University. The Governmental Affairs Committee hosted various appreciation functions for elected officials, including Governor Lamar Alexander, Congressman Robin Beard, and Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker.
“Assuring Our Future” was the Chamber’s theme in 1985. The Chamber implemented a “Clarksville Has it All” campaign that included bumper stickers, billboards, t-shirts, and hats encouraging residents and residents of surrounding counties to shop Clarksville first. The Chamber’s tourism committee developed an ambassador program, using local business people as spokespersons within their trade and professional organizations to sell Clarksville as a meeting and convention site.
The Roads/Transportation Committee worked to advocate the 4-laning of Guthrie Highway to I-24 as well as improvements to 41-A North. The Chamber also supported Mayor Ted Crozier’s efforts to annex the St. Bethlehem area.
The community faced a severe blow December 12, when news of an Arrow Air DC-8 crashed at Gander International Airport in Gander, Newfoundland. These 248 Fort Campbell soldiers were rotating home after serving as a peacekeeping force in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The Chamber sponsored an “Adopt-A-Family” program for those who had lost loved ones. Walton Griffin, the Chamber’s executive director, died of a heart attack in his office that same morning.
“Coming to Grips with our Potential” was the theme in 1986. The Chamber continued to work on the St. Bethlehem annexation, roads improvements, and improved relations with Fort Campbell, Austin Peay, local governments, and the Industrial Development Board.
The “Clarksville Has it All” campaign catapulted to a new level, utilizing all available media and displaying posters all over town. Special events were held throughout the year that emphasized this theme. The opening of the Mall spurred retail expansion in the St. Bethlehem area. This began the push for Clarksville-Montgomery County citizens to live local.
The closure of Acme Boot in 1989 led many to fear a further loss of manufacturing jobs. However, new business development exceeded our expectations. At the time, Hopkinsville made a major push to attract more Fort Campbell officers to live there, so Clarksville had to work harder than ever to keep itself in the forefront by doing everything possible to support the post and its personnel.
Changes in the 1990’s:
- The Umbrella Organization, The Economic Development Council, was formed
- Hosted the first Day on the Hill legislative luncheon to help present a unified voice to members of the legislature
- Sales tax receipts had increased 147 percent from 1984-94
- A three year marketing plan was drafted and groundwork for the future Aspire Clarksville Foundations was put into place
- Aspire’s first campaign in 1996 raised $1.6 million, which was $400,000 over the initial goal
- The Chamber changes to a July 1 fiscal year so as to be consistent with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Industrial Development Board
- The top volunteer was renamed Chairman instead of President.
- ”Gateway to the New South” logo and tagline adopted
- The community experienced its first mayoral change in 12 years with the 1998 election of Mayor Johnny Piper
- Friday, January 22, 1999, Clarksville was faced with an unexpected tragedy. An F3 tornado touched down, destroying much of Clarksville with an estimated $72 million of damage to 515 properties
- In efforts to begin redevelopment, the Downtown District Partnership, a central business improvement and redevelopment district, was created on the city’s behalf on July 1, 1999.
- The community welcomed Star-Tek, Hendrickson Trailer Suspension Systems, and Convergys as new industries in 1999
- Several industries that had begun operations in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s announced major expansion plans
- The Chamber began a new program , Women in Business, and held events that gave women the opportunity to hear a female entrepreneur or executive and also encouraged networking with one another
Momentum and growth in the local economy turned to caution as Fort Campbell was deployed to the Middle East for the Desert Shield/Desert Storm conflict. As the Division’s first full deployment in decades, the community wasn’t sure what type of economic impact to expect. The Chamber and its Military Affairs committee worked to unite businesses and keep lines of communication open. Other committees maintained active roles and the Chamber surged forward.
The war and consequently the deployment was much shorter than anyone anticipated. Representatives from the Chamber met every plane, day or night, welcoming troops home. Within six months, all the troops had returned to Fort Campbell; all those that had left, plus some. Because the Army expected heavy casualties over a lengthy engagement, about 33% more soldiers were assigned to the 101st during the time of deployment. When that many more troops than expected returned, the real estate market went into a frenzy. “The community was not at all prepared for such growth during the deployment and unfortunately, it made the soldiers feel unwelcome when they returned because there weren’t places for them all to live,” recounts Chamber President, Coy Baggett, Jr.
With a new emphasis on military affairs, Baggett successfully advocated for a budget for the committee and received $500. Until that time, 100% of the funds needed by the committee were raised during the year.
With the economy beginning to return to a growth mode in 1992, one of the Chamber’s major challenges was minority inclusion in the Chamber. President Oscar Page set out to take a fresh look at what the Chamber was all about and what it needed to accomplish by hosting a leadership retreat. Increasing minority participation and meeting the needs of small business were identified overwhelmingly as the top two goals.
Education was a continued emphasis. Judy Hammerstein and Dwight Gregory developed an effort called Concerned Businessmen in the Classroom. Businesspeople made presentations and provided “real world” business scenarios as exercises.
Even with many accomplishments, the Chamber’s growing financial difficulties reached crisis mode by the end of 1992.
A major dual goal of the Chamber in 1993 was remedying its financial situation and consolidating marketing efforts among the three agencies that were responsible for some portion of community marketing. First Federal Savings Bank generously matched dollars raised by the Chamber and a reserve fund was set aside so that no future president would start out with a negative fund balance.
Chamber President Gene Washer undertook with fervor the task of educating, lobbying, and ultimately developing and Economic Development Council to serve as an “umbrella” organization for the Chamber, Tourist Commission, and Industrial Development Board.
Washer shares, “History will show that the formation of the EDC will be the single best thing that has happened as far as business development and community marketing. There was so much fragmentation prior to that. The Chamber direction changed with every new president and the agencies often battled for turf. The EDC allowed the agencies to perform more effectively on behalf on the community.”
Executive Committee member and future president Tom Ritterspacher concurred, noting the formation of the EDC as “the greatest impact of the decade with a very lasting impression on the community.”
The state mandated that the community “get its act together” for infrastructure requests after a year of conflicting and individual requests being presented for funding. The Chamber took a leadership role in identifying needed transportation projects and also hosted its first ever Day on the Hill legislative luncheon to help present a unified voice to members of the legislature.
The Chamber hosted a Legislative weekend in Clarksville with a reception on Friday evening and a dinner of Saturday. All state legislators were invited to spend the weekend and participate in activities like Black Hawk helicopter rides, boat cruises on the Cumberland, golf, and tennis. President Billy Atkins writes, “This event provided the opportunity for tremendous influence and having more of the legislature know us on a personal basis. I remember some legislators’ asking ‘how far up in Kentucky’ was Fort Campbell!”
The finalization of the Economic Development Council was viewed as a major accomplishment. Bylaws and structure were approved by all member agencies in October and a CEO was hired in December. The formation of a marketing plan was underway. “For the first time, I think we were all working together (agencies, city, and county) as a team to accomplish the goals that each organization had set,” reflect Atkins.
President Walton Smith really “got the ball rolling” for the EDC in 1995. He contracted BLF Marketing to write a three-year community marketing plan and a fundraiser was hired.
Securing funding for Aspire 2000 was the Chamber’s first task and top priority for President Tom Ritterspacher in 1996. He reflects in 2004, “Aspire 2000 was, in my mind, the most significant goal to achieve in my tenure. Today, through the financial support of Aspire 2000 and leadership of the EDC, our Tourist Commission aggressively brings national athletic competitions and state beauty pageants to our area, the Chamber is instrumental in cleaning up the city and making it more saleable to new business, and the IDB expanded the business park, making its one of the best business sites in the state!”
Second in importance was a project that first began two decades earlier, but had again come to fruition in recent year: A Convention Center. Two public presentations were conducted to define the site selection process, cost, and potential activities. The effort was defeated.
Volunteer Jim Amos worked tirelessly and actively to promote bringing Hwy 69 and 840 through Montgomery County. Both projects became heated political issues and their fate determined elsewhere. But, the Chamber’s efforts did re-earn respect and recognition from TDOT.
The Aspire program included four initiatives:
- community enhancement
- business development
- image enhancement
- economic information center through a partnership with Austin Peay State University
Maintaining good relations with Fort Campbell had always been a top priority for the Chamber. In 1997, the Clarksville and Hopkinsville Chambers forged a formal alliance called Citizens for Fort Campbell. About 50 community leaders met with post officials and compiled a “top ten” projects list. The Chambers organized a visit to Washington, DC in early spring when budget discussions were beginning. The delegation met with each senator and congressman from both Tennessee and Kentucky to review the identified projects and advocate for their funding. The effort was a tremendous success and has continued to be so. After a few years, Oak Grove, Kentucky and Stewart County, Tennessee representatives joined the delegation. To date, several hundred million dollars have been provided for barracks upgrades, training facilities and operation centers.
A significant branding campaign was launched with the development of a new EDC/Community logo and tag line, Gateway to the New South. Encouraging city and county departments to make use of the logo helped develop a consistent brand and identify for visitors, business prospects, and it also instilled a sense of pride among residents. A public relations effort, deemed the Good News Bureau, was established to ensure consistent and widespread economic news from the various agencies, raising awareness in the state, region, and nation, as well as locally.
While some objectives of the Aspire 2000 program helped achieve instant recognition for the Chamber, most of the program’s goals were long term. By the end of the decade, 81 directional signs dotted the city along all gateway corridors giving instant brand recognition to the visitors and residents who traveled into and out of Clarksville.
Top priorities for 1998 included:
- supporting the expansion of our Corporate Business Park
- preparation for the creation of a workforce development program
- development of a legislative agenda
- creating a regional linkage and long-range planning committees
- placing greater emphasis on quality of life issues throughout the entire community
With unemployment at an all-time low, Chamber membership was at a all-time high. Businesses were opening at a record pace. Existing industry was expanding and prospect activity was high. The final phases of the River District Master Plan were being implemented and the community was receiving regional and national recognition.
In reference to the 1999 tornado, Chairman Ted McCurdy said, “To say we were on a roll would be an understatement.” “But, no one could have predicted the major event that would test the strength and resolve of our Chamber.”
The Chamber received only minor roof damage as a residual effect from the adjoining post office, yet across the street and around the corner, the Courthouse, Leaf Chronicle, and Madison Street United Methodist Church were completely demolished. The Chamber building was used as police headquarters, a gathering place for property owners, and eventually the SBA Disaster Assistance Program established an office in the building.
“Looking back over this period, the single most memorable event that defined the character of our Chamber was the response to this tragedy,” reflects Dr. McCurdy. “What an asset out Chamber has been to this community through the years!”
As part of the downtown redevelopment efforts, Mayor Johnny Piper asked the Chamber to again lead the charge for the funding and development of a publicly owned Conference/Civic Center that would serve as the catalyst for private development. In October, the Mayor asked the city council to approve a $20 million bond issue and the campaign for a public referendum began.
Accomplishments for the 2000’s
- The Chamber begins inter-city visits, with their first destinations being Columbus, Ga, Ashville, NC and Killeen, Texas
- Chamber welcomes its first woman chairman, small business owner Niesha Wolfe
With the new millennium came a presidential primary and a public vote on the referendum to fund a conference center. After an $.82 tax increase, continuing tornado recovery efforts, and renewed debate over a downtown location, the community voted overwhelmingly not to support public funding. This was a major setback for downtown development efforts and the Chamber, as the lead organization in the public campaign. It was an issue that divided the community and set business leaders and thus, the Chamber, apart from the retired community. A widespread mistrust of government and business ensued.
In 2000, to help broaden the vision of both its leaders and government officials, the Chamber chose to visit Columbus, Ga. To observe the commonalities Clarksville shared with them.
City council and community leaders viewed firsthand the cities:
- riverfront development
- consolidated government
- downtown district
- corporate headquarter recruitment
- workforce development initiatives
- relationship with Fort Benning
Chamber Chair-Elect John Wallace said, “If you never entertain new ideas or see different ideas working somewhere else, it’s hard to have a broader vision of what our community could become. A better informed leadership is a more effective leadership.” The Chamber Chair-Elect was given the task of selecting the city and heading the delegation.
One significant outcome of that trip was the development of a full-time workforce development effort within the Chamber. Strategic planning for the second four-year Aspire program identified workforce development as a top priority for the Chamber and funded a full-time position and program activities in its 2001-04 budget. The initiative was launched in March 2001 with the hiring of a workforce development specialist, who served to facilitate business needs and provider services. The effort initiated a variety of training programs to ensure an adequately skilled workforce was available for all types of business and industry.
In 2001, the Chamber incorporated the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC), which had been funded by and housed within Austin Peay State University. Chamber Chairman, Jim Mann raised funds to salvage the program and operate it through the Chamber. The Center served as a one-stop shop for hopeful entrepreneurs with seminars, counseling services, financing and other needed information.
After the terrorist attacks to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the nations economy continued a downward spiral into an official recession. Montgomery County did well not to experience plant closures and layoffs like many communities in the throughout the nation, still the local economy was far from thriving.
Mentoring opportunities and more interaction with Austin Peay students was a priority. The Chamber initiated a “Move-In Day” in which volunteers helped students move into dormitories at the beginning of the fall semester. Parents and students alike were impressed by the Chamber’s efforts.
Clarksville growth rate for business start-ups during these years was escalating. Most of these were small entrepreneurial operations or home-based businesses. The TSBDC expanded its efforts to include seminars and networking sessions that addressed the needs of this growing portion of the business community.
Also started that year was a local government affairs committee, designed to help foster better relations with local government and the Chamber. Members were surveyed regularly about their opinions on local, state, and federal issues and the Chamber again took on an active role as an advocate for business.
In early 2003, the community again experienced a division-wide deployment as the 101st was called to action for Operation Iraqi Freedom, further compounding economic fears. Chamber staff met with post officials prior to the deployment and began working on a communications strategy. Almost immediately, businesses began to rally around families and many expressed the desire to “adopt” units or family readiness groups. From these desires to help came Operation Eagle’s Nest, a fund designed to financially assist families in need. With wide spread publicity and dozens of dedicated volunteers, the fund became enormously successful and is now a permanent source of help for troops and their families. The Army Times named the Clarksville-Montgomery County community the best in the country for civilian support of Fort Campbell. “The Military Affairs Committee led by Bill Sites and Darol Walker brought many kudos to the Chamber and guided our whole community into a patriotic fervor,” said Wolfe.
Under the realm of Dick Rossetti in 2003-04, the Chamber hired its first female Executive Director, Christy Batts.
Other major initiatives during Rossetti’s tenure included broadening the Chamber’s influence and impact by better serving the minority business and North Clarksville business communities. The Chamber initiated various programs and events to create more networking opportunities between the “traditional” business leadership and, in particular, small business owners who felt outside those circles. Minority business profiles were also featured in the member communication materials.
The Chamber partnered with the national Great American Clean-Up day to provide all Clarksvillians the opportunity to pitch in and help keep Clarksville clean. The effort also helped improve residents’ sense of community pride.
Business in Clarksville remained steady and experienced moderate growth in the years of the new millennium, even as the nation experienced a recession. Still, businesses and residents alike were eager for the troops to return safely – and soon.
The Division returned in 2004 after a year-long deployment. The Chamber joined in a community-wide Welcome Home celebration for Fort Campbell troops as part of the annual Rivers & Spires Festival. Over 10,000 soldiers marched in a downtown parade while thousands lined the streets to show their gratitude. The Chamber’s specific role was to fund and erect a permanent memorial honoring all active duty military and veterans. During an emotional dedication in April of 2004, an Eternal Flame was lit and stands forever in Clarksville’s Public Square to ensure that we never forget the dedication and sacrifice of the many who have served and sacrificed for our freedoms.
An Army “transformation” generated the creation of a fourth brigade at the post…brining nearly 2,500 new soldiers and their families to the Clarksville area. Retail sales that began to spike with the troop return continued to climb and set new records each quarter. As demand for housing escalated, so did new construction of both residential homes and rental properties…along with prices. By early 2005, units sold and sales prices were at an all-time high.
Clarksville successfully recruited its first major new industry in six years with the formation of a new venture named MW/MB, LLC. The project accounted for $100 million in capital investment and 100 new jobs. Yet even while recruitment had slowed, expansions by existing industries remained strong in the first. Jostens, Bridgestone Metalpha, Robert Bosch Corporation, SPX Contech, Conwood Company, and others announced major expansion plans in the first half of the decade. The purchase and development of an additional 930+ acres as a Corporate Business Park expansion should enable the community to regain a top-of-mind awareness among the nation’s top business leaders as an excellent business location while the community reaps the benefits of proactive and aggressive business recruitment for years to come.