Renee Fite, Special Writer
May 21, 2012
TAHLEQUAH — There were few empty seats Thursday evening at the Herb Rozell Ballroom at Northeastern State University in the University Center, for the 67th annual Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce annual banquet and Recognition Ceremony.
A reception was held outside on the veranda, allowing guests to sample wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Chamber Executive Director David Moore and Todd Enlow, emcee for the evening, greeted guests as the program portion began.
While many award winners were listed in the program and had been featured in the newspaper, two were kept a surprise until the end of the evening: Chamber Ambassador of the Year and Outstanding Board Member of the Year.
Stephen Highers earned last year’s Ambassador of the Year award and was honored Thursday night with the Outstanding Board Member of the Year Award. Jarred Vanderheiden was designated the 2012 Ambassador of the Year. Both men kept their acceptance speeches to two words: “Thank you.”
Other winners included: Pastor James Graham, accepting the Heritage Award for Feed My Sheep; Stanley Young, accepting the Green Business award for Lake Region Electric Cooperative; Robert Jones, Police Officer of the Year; Emily Davis, EMS Medic of the Year; Aaron Garrett, Firefighter of the Year; Jim Wilson, the Jack Kaufman Community Service Award; Kate Kelly, the Martin Hagerstrand Award for Tourism; Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker, the Kruger Corn Economic Development Award; Amber Wright, owner of DreamCatcher Sports, the Horizon Award; and Mayor Jason Nichols, accepting the Heritage Award for the Snowflake Winter Festival.
Every person who volunteers with the Chamber of Commerce or supports it with their membership does so for personal reasons.
Jerry Cook said he has found throughout his travels regionally and around the state for NSU, this kind of community support is rare.
“The Chamber is the only entity that brings the whole community together,” Cook said. “Look at this group: it includes educators, retired people, professional people, the Keetoowah tribe and the Cherokee tribe; people from all walks of life who share a common vision.”
A 30-year member of the Tahlequah Chamber, Ben Robinson, former owner of The Insurance Place, said the Chamber is constantly trying to bring economic development to the community.
“New business is the life-blood of a community, so it’s important for the Chamber to bring new business and industry to town,” Robinson said.
Keynote speaker Rickey Hayes with Retail Attractions emphasized that point to the audience.
“New business doesn’t take away from current businesses. New retail pulls consumers into your market,” Hayes said.
When the right people are in the right place with the right message at the right time, power happens, Hayes said.
“It takes vision to see what we could be. We know what we are, and to be better, somebody has to cast a vision to go from what is to what could be,” Hayes said. “And it takes leadership to show us how to get from where we are to where we want to be.”
Change costs money, he said, “but when you get the vision and the leadership right the funds will show up.”
Hayes, a former Texan, has been the director of economic development for Owasso for 12 years. Oklahoma is a wonderful place with wonderful people, Hayes said. But Tahlequah, like many cities, isn’t maximizing its potential.
“We can forever change Tahlequah by maximizing retail potential,” he said. “World class communities are determined by their mind set, the way they think about themselves.”
He noted every city has retail leakage.
“When your wife takes your credit card to another city and spends it, that’s retail leakage. A lot of your tax revenues go to Muskogee,” he said.
When he came to Owasso, a Home Depot wanted to come in to the town. They already had a Lowe’s, and many people thought it would take away their profits to add a Home Depot.
“Lowe’s increased 17 percent that first year, over the $40 million they were making and Home Depot made about that much, doubling the combined revenue to about $80 million improvement in one year.
Missed opportunities in millions of dollars in online sales and not reaching the primary trade area around Tahlequah are two areas of untapped potential.
Hayes forecasted Tahlequah could support about 10 new national restaurants.
“How many of you eat out of town at national restaurants?” he asked, as hands raised all over the room. “I think 10 more restaurants could do $10 million in revenue in Tahlequah.”
He challenged those in the room to, “think ahead far enough to keep from getting behind.”