Chamber leader reflects on organization’s success

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, December 7, 2011


SOUTH POINT — When Bob Smith took over as director of the Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, he got to give himself a carte blanche with the job.

That’s because the post had been vacant for some time and was in need of a shot in the proverbial arm.

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That was Dec. 1, 2008, and Smith hit the ground running. Now on Friday the veteran broadcaster and community activist plans on taking a leave of absence from the chamber for the next three months. But he won’t go without seeing the fruits of his labor.

Three years ago the chamber of commerce had approximately 225 members. Today membership roster hits 350 members with 32 of those added this year.

“When I came on, it was to get small businesses more involved,” Smith said. “My position had been vacant for some time and we needed to get some activities going again.”

Smith did that by introducing a variety of social events with the goal of simply getting people together and letting them do the rest.

“I have several activities that add to the overall effects of the communication, networking, getting people involved,” Smith said. “It’s letting people know what is going on in the county and we do that through educational means.”

Throughout the year the chamber sponsors Business After Hours with receptions at the locations of small businesses in the county; the Fourth Friday Luncheon series that features speakers from business, politics, education and non-profits; and Biz4Breakfast with early morning seminars on business-pertinent topics.

“The primary accomplishment has been getting the business elements in Lawrence County more involved,” Smith said. “When you can get people together, they are going to talk, network and communicate. When that happens, problems are solved. There is more of a positive outcome.”

Next week Smith starts his leave with a spirit of celebration. His wife, Billie, who was diagnosed this summer with Stage 3C ovarian cancer, was recently told the disease has been eradicated.

“When my wife came down with a serious illness, it is very, very emotionally draining, mentally draining and physically draining. I felt we needed to take a break,” Smith said. “She has since recovered completely. There are no signs of any cancer right now. We are going to Florida and celebrate.”

But Smith will be back at his chamber office on March 5, planning the latest Spotlight Dinner and Auction, a fundraiser for area non-profits. This past spring the guest speaker was MSNBS News Anchor Chris Jansing.

Money raised at that dinner funded $500 scholarships for each of nine county students and a donation of $2,500 to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Tri-State.

Next year’s speaker is tentatively scheduled to be Broadway musical star and former Huntington resident, Mark McVey.

While the chamber has undergone a renaissance under the leadership of Smith, he wants to point out success is a collaborative effort.

“The team I work with is absolutely incredible. I know this sounds like a cliché and it is, but it is amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit. I so enjoy this position and am looking forward to coming back to this position.”