The chamber has so much to offer community

By IAN COWART,

The aroma of delicious food, sounds of a bustling crowd, and the ambiance of craziness have dissipated as another Crazy Day has officially come and gone. This year, the Magee Chamber of Commerce rung in loads of fun and new and exciting changes to Magee’s beloved event. Even though early morning rain and temperatures kept some vendors at bay, we still managed to pull off one of Magee’s best Crazy Days yet. This year, we added a more seasonal theme to the event. We even collaborated with Magee General Hospital to bring “Treat Street” as a part of our many additions. Due to this year’s success, Crazy Day for years to come will officially be known as, “Crazy Day Fall Festival”.

     As the month of October is in the rearview, so is the half way point of my chamber presidency. The annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet is only 5 short months away. Once that date arrives, I will bow my head and pass the gavel to the next President. With this in mind, I feel an overwhelming sense of stress and urgency. I feel this way because there is so much more I want to do. I am constantly focusing in on what is next or what else we can do, that the thought of being idle keeps me up at night. It was only just recently that I learned a very hard lesson and that I have to literally slow down and relax every now and again. This week, I jumped off the hamster wheel for a few days and just took a look back on what the chamber as done the past 6 months. After a brief analysis, just one thought strikes across my mind, WOW, we have actually accomplished a lot!

When I first stepped into the shoes of Chamber President, I received a ton of phone calls. I received calls from people that sparked emotion in me ranging from love, indifference, happiness, and loathing in the deepest sense of the word. On many of those calls, I was given what some would say was pretty unwarranted advice. I never turned my ear away, but just one piece of advice stuck in my brain like a splinter. Someone told me, “Ian, make sure that you leave your legacy”. That rolled around in my brain and I never could shake it. Why would should I worry about leaving a legacy? In my opinion, if that was my end goal, wouldn’t that be completely self-serving? I thought that I joined the chamber to help contribute to our community.    

That moment, I started praying that God would provide me with a vision. That is where the idea of Project Downtown came from. I started thinking and planning on how we could create an atmosphere downtown. In the midst of our special project, I wanted to create a structure within the chamber as well. In my opinion, because the board is comprised of 12 members in total, that should suffice as the one and only executive committee. If that is the case, then all of our meetings should be discussion and brainstorming sessions, where every member has and equal and valued contribution. Not one person or segregated group exists on this board in an elitist fashion. I thought of it as King Arthur did with the concept of a round table. I may be the president, but decisions come from everyone as a whole. After all, the board of directors are a group of volunteers wanting to contribute to Magee.

With a clear structure in place, we began brainstorming ideas for Project Downtown in April. I presented the idea and homework I had done for putting music on Main Avenue. The idea of a “Welcome to Downtown Mural” was among the drawing board as well as other ideas. Once we decided our first phase, we discussed funding and we came up with a game plan. Not a single board member was idle in this venture, and just 2 and a half months later, we had music and our mural up and rocking. Immediately we accomplished our goal at generating an atmosphere. It is also worth to mention that we have had 7 ribbon cuttings since April as well. That’s basically a ribbon cutting and welcoming a new business into our city every month.

There is so much more that we have contributed to Magee that just can’t come to mind. There are businesses who have admired our ventures this year and are discussing donating grant money on a rotating schedule. With the prospect of additional funding, the chamber will be allowed to further its special projects for years to come. One thing is for sure, this year’s Magee Chamber of Commerce has not been quiet. One of the most exciting stories I get to share is that I have been contacted by city officials from 2 cities outside of Magee in regards to what we have done.

A few months ago, I had a drop-in meeting with a few of Picayune, Mississippi’s city officials and members of their Main Street Committee. On a spur of the moment notice, they decided to stop by the chamber office and asked to speak with me. I don’t know how, but they had heard about all of the things we were doing with our “Project Downtown”. They told Doris and that they were very much impressed with what we have done. They were impressed so much, that they told us that they wanted to copy what we had done. They were inspired on how we all of a sudden created an atmosphere and promoted our membership at the same time. They also told us that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and that we should be proud.

I have not followed up on this, but the City of Picayune will be adding this to their downtown, if they have not already.

A few weeks ago, I received a phone called from a man named Richard Johnson. He is the Mayor of Waynesboro, MS. Richard just stopped in town to pick up a sport coat from Tommy Meador when he heard the music playing downtown. Richard got my number from Tommy and called to talk about the music. Richard told me that he had never seen anything like this. He said that when he stepped out of his car, he stopped and said, WOW! This is so pleasant! Richard wanted to let me know that he sincerely wanted to congratulate us. He told me that they have a front street just like Magee’s. He went on to say that he has been wandering for the past 5 years, how to not make it not seem so dead.

I told him that our mission with this project was to create an atmosphere. He told me, buddy, I have to tip my hat to you. You guys did it.

Richard went on to ask me on all the details and the process that went into it. Richard really liked how we included our membership and businesses with the sponsorships. Richard is having his local radio station and chamber reach out to me in the coming weeks. He told me that the money is not an issue and that they are going to move forward and do exactly what we did.

I am truly speechless at the fact that we have other cities outside of Magee looking in and gaining inspiration. It has only been 3 months since we completed Project Downtown, and now Picayune and Waynesboro want emulate our accomplishments. When I look back and see what we have accomplished, I am no longer filled with stress and urgency. Instead, I am filled with excitement. I am excited because we have half a year to continue to do great things for Magee. I am excited because majority of this awesome board will still be around, eager and filled with energy and fresh perspective next year. I will roll back to being a board member for one more year, but will be passing the mantle to someone who I believe will do a great job as President, Laura Lynn Barr. As a matter of fact, I think it may be genetic. I can’t leave out the fact that the Magee Chamber of Commerce has the best Executive Director in Doris Adcox. Doris has slaved hours on end these past seven months. Without Doris, the chamber wouldn’t be where it is.

 Your Magee Chamber of Commerce has worked very hard for its membership and its beloved city this year. Will I leave a legacy? I don’t know and I don’t care. What I do care about, is if I motivated the people of Magee to invest in this great city. If this board and the boards for years to come can and will make a difference, then it will all be worth it. The board of directors are not city officials. We are volunteers who offer to serve their membership and their city without bias. I hope that we have served this role to the best of our ability. I want to give a sincere thank you to everyone who has supported me and this board. I ask for your continued support as we venture into the remainder of the year. Who know what else we can accomplish.