The Chamber of Commerce would like to have more financial support from the City of Smithville and the DeKalb County government in its mission of promoting the county and tourism.
The County makes an annual contribution of $17,500 to the Chamber while the City of Smithville adds $10,000. But that ranks far below what other counties in the Upper Cumberland Region donate to their Chambers of Commerce.
During a budget work session Thursday evening, Chamber Director Suzanne Williams addressed the Smithville Mayor and Aldermen asking for a $5,000 increase in the city’s annual contribution. She plans to approach the county budget committee next week.
“I know there are so many important things but I am passionate about what I do. I love promoting this county. I ask that you consider making an extra contribution so I am not having to raise funds all the time,” said Williams.
To help support the operation of the Chamber, various fundraisers are held during the year. The chamber also has 160 members who pay membership dues averaging $135 each per year.
In her role as Chamber Director, Williams explained that she mainly promotes tourism and community development and supports the County Mayor, who is the county’s economic development director. Williams also represents DeKalb County as a member of 14 boards. “I think that is important because it helps us build relationships in the region and throughout the state,” said Williams
The local chamber is active, Williams continued and has been successful in helping secure grants in recent years, including for downtown revitalization. With grant funding through that particular program, participating property owners of commercial buildings on the public square, who also made a commitment of funding, have been able to make repairs and upgrades including painting, façade improvements, along with new awnings and signs. Williams said those grants have resulted in a half million dollars in improvements to downtown property owners.
Williams said the Chamber has also secured a developmental co-op grant for a new tourism video which has been prepared to help promote DeKalb County.
Of course, Center Hill Lake and the Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree are two of the county’s largest tourist attractions and Williams said officials of the Tennessee Department of Tourism have been supportive in making a special effort to promote them in more publications and magazines.
Next year, the National Model T Ford Club of America is planning to make a stop in downtown Smithville on its national tour bringing 400-600 people to town to show off their Model T’s.
Tourism is big business in DeKalb County. Last year, Williams said tourists spent $45 million here, a 5.4% increase from the previous year. It was also the 3rd largest percentage increase in state.
Yet, while DeKalb County is among the leaders in regional tourism dollars, other counties in this area are doing more to support their Chambers.
According to Williams, the Sparta-White County Chamber of Commerce receives $30,000 from the county there and $30,000 from Sparta along with proceeds from a Hotel-Motel tax.
The Carthage-Smith County Chamber receives $56,117 from the city and county combined there.
The Smithville Mayor and Aldermen were non-committal on more funding for the Chamber. They are still working toward preparation of the city budget for 2018-19 and will act on 1st reading passage of it Thursday night, June 21 at 6 p.m. at city hall.