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Centennial 100 Years of Success

A Special Publication of The Johnson City News & Neighbor | July 2015 Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


View of Johnson City circa 1910, Provided by the Library of Congress.

MCB Congratulates the Johnson City Chamber on 100 Years of Success! MCB Congratulates the Johnson City Chamber We are proud to be a chamber member, community prosperity seems hollow. Your prosperity is our on 100 Years of100Success! bank and neighbor. Over the past years or so, prosperity, and when you succeed, we succeed.

View of Johnson City circa 1910, Provided by the Library of Congress.

we learned that there is more wealth in this land We are proud to be a chamber member, community prosperity seems hollow. Your prosperity is our You have stood the test of time, and we look than just money. True prosperity comes from a bank and neighbor. Over the past 100 years or so, prosperity, and when you succeed, we succeed. strong emphasis on community and integrity. forward to the next 100 years of serving our we learned that there is more wealth in this land Unless we take good care of our community, community with you. Thank You! You have stood the test of time, and we look than just money. True prosperity comes from a strong emphasis on community and integrity. forward to the next 100 years of serving our Unless we take good care of our community, community with you. Thank You! Hometown Service

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

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100 Years and counting Let the celebration continue – we cut the cake, opened a time capsule buried during our 75th Diamond birthday, and affirmed the Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Chamber’s role in economic and community development. Once known as the Johnson City Commercial Club, Board of Enterprise, Johnson City Business Club, and Board of Trade - the members of the Chamber take care of business, locally and regionally, as well as nationally and globally. We glance back at our illustrious history, revel in the present, and look ahead to the future. Our core values include exceeding member expectations, and promoting a regional business economy while placing our community at the forefront of all our endeavors. Our mission statement cites improved quality of life

as an overarching purpose. All that we have or will achieve revolves around volunteer leadership, who provide their time, resources, and especially their employees to work on activities that get results. The good news is – we are open for business, we serve business, and you can do business in our community. The Chamber of Commerce, our official name, grew from the efforts of Amzi Smith, and ‘some men,’ into an institution that welcomed diversity. Businesswomen led and continue to lead. The Chamber’s ongoing collaboration with local governments, institutions of higher education, and others keeps us at the table to ensure the results are good for business. The themes of the Chairs of the Board

encourage the pursuit of lofty goals. ‘Out Front and Moving Ahead,’ ‘Building Community Success,’ ‘Foundation for the Future,’ – all seek to engage the membership, volunteers, the professional staff, and the Board in collaboration with others to achieve better than our best each day. “ONE” is the Centennial theme of Jeff Jones, our Board Chair, and it permits plays on words. ONE Chamber...ONE purpose...ONE Hundred. On behalf of the Chamber and Foundation Boards, our members and the professional team, we are honored to have served for a century that positions us to compete and collaborate in the pursuit of the Spirit of Free Enterprise for the next hundred years and beyond.

You must know where you came from to know where you are going Congratulations to the Chamber of Commerce of Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County on celebrating 100 years of success. The progress in our communities has required a significant commitment on the part of many people. Congratulations to those who have worked so hard on this celebration. The quality of life we enjoy has been greatly enhanced by their dedication and contributions. Today, we are enjoying the growth and benefits envisioned by past community leaders. In the future, our children and grandchildren will benefit from the investments we make today. Phenomenal growth in technology, medicine, communications, research and more have connected our county and city to the world. Traditionally, we are fortunate the Chamber has chosen to play a very active role in our community and we appreciate the significant 4

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

influence it has had. It would not be possible without the dedicated members who have supported, taken active roles and provided leadership to move our beautiful communities forward. What lies ahead? Who knows what progress our communities will experience during the next 25 years, 50 years? It’s exciting to dream about. As a community newspaper, the Johnson City News & Neighbor is honored to be a part of this celebration by having the opportunity to publish this very special 68-page edition. It’s impossible to touch every aspect of our community’s growth and the Chamber’s involvement helping many of those things happen. Our goal was to include as much as possible from past historical moments to current programs. I hope we have chronicled a glimpse of both.

And thank you to our business community and advertisers who have supported this community event and publication. Let’s all celebrate the Chamber’s 100th Anniversary. It’s a party for all our Washington County communities! Sincerely,

Bill Derby Publisher, Johnson City News & Neighbor, The Business Journal Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


A log is hauled through downtown Johnson City in the 1800s. The region’s abundant natural resources helped key the city’s growth. Photos courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

A train stops at the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio depot in the early 1900s.

Rail, natural resources spurred early business growth in pre-Chamber days By Jeff Keeling (with a debt of gratitude to johnsonsdepot.com)

growing town, and in 1885, around the time of the establishment of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Rail Business organizations weren’t new to road, Johnson City established a “Board Johnson City by 1915, when Amzi Smith of Enterprise.” This entity was quickly was named the fledgling Johnson City/ supplanted by a “Johnson City Business Washington County Chamber of ComClub” (in 1887) and a second organization, merce’s first president – but then, neither the Board of Trade (1890). was a business culture new to Johnson The city boomed, the population City. The city’s founder and namesake, soared – and then the can’t-miss promisHenry Johnson, was also its first business- es sparked by the expectation that regionman and entrepreneur. al iron ore and other factors would make When Johnson built a store/hotel and Johnson City a “New Pittsburgh” failed to later a railroad depot along the banks of materialize. After population growth from Brush Creek in the mid-1850s, on what 685 to 4,161 in the 1880s, the 1890s saw is now Market Street, he had growth in the city grow by just 11 percent. mind. He was banking on the potential of After the Business Club and Board of a proposed new rail line when he bought Trade disappeared, Johnson City chanproperty where that railroad might neled Henry Johnson’s entrepreneurial intersect with a stagecoach line between spirit and reinvented itself. The railroads Elizabethton and Jonesborough. were still important, but clearly success “Johnson’s Depot” paid dividends for wouldn’t come to the city on a silver platits namesake, leading to the 1869 incorter. So as the 1900s dawned, the Johnson poration of Johnson City, and for a solid City Commercial Club was established. five decades, the railroads upon which Within a decade, thanks in large part to Johnson based his business plan continwork of those “representative businessued to dominate Johnson City’s economy men who are directly interested in the – through both booms and busts. Men city’s material and spiritual growth” and like John T. Wilder and George L. Carter who stood, “ready to encourage immigraused their business acumen and vision to tion and location of business enterprises take advantage of the continued rise of rail, of merit,” the city had recovered its vim. and of the abundant natural resources the Club members – like those of their region offered for extraction and profit. successor, the Chamber of Commerce Surrounding all this activity was a – were intimately involved in the accom6

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

plishments that helped the still-young city grow. In the 15 years leading up to the Chamber’s establishment in 1915, those included the successful recruitment of two institutions that remain critical in Johnson City and Washington County’s success – the National Home for Disabled Soldiers (now Mountain Home VA Medical Center) and East Tennessee Normal School, now East Tennessee State University. Also during this era, the city’s first hospital was built, and the railroad business continued expanding with Carter completing the Clinchfield Railroad between 1905 and 1909 and its Johnson City depot opening in 1909. All this was enough to set Johnson City back on its feet such that – after the slow growth of the 1890s – the population nearly doubled from 1900 to 1910 (to 8,501) and had exceeded 11,000 when the Chamber established itself. The organization was composed of leading business people with capital invested in businesses and homes and with the interests of the city and of Washington County at heart. A century on, the Chamber of Commerce has played an integral role as Johnson City’s population has grown sixfold, to 64,528. During the same period, Washington County’s population had quadrupled, to an estimated 126,242 today. And Jonesborough has grown strongly as well, more than sixfold since 1920 and more

A 1908 Johnson City Comet headline touts the rail industry’s economic impact.

than threefold just since 1970. Without the Chamber helping lead the way in a broad array of economic sectors, this growth wouldn’t have been nearly as robust. In its first full decade (the 1920s) Johnson City more than doubled in population, from 12,441 to 25,080. We look in the succeeding pages at the changes that have occurred over the past century in industry; in infrastructure; in health care; in agriculture; in retail; in education; in tourism; and in the arts. These are among the foundations of a thriving community and economy, and the Chamber has been an integral part of their development every step of the way. Here’s to the next 100 years! Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Centennial 100 Years of Success

Publisher William R. Derby Assistant Publisher Jeff Derby Managing Editor Scott Robertson Associate Editor Jeff Keeling Staff Writer Sarah Colson Accounting Judy Derby

Advertising Jeff Derby Leslie Haas Jeff Williams Robin Williams Graphics Director Judd Shaw Graphics Paula Giovanetti Circulation Manager Roy Jenkins, Jr.

Office (423) 979-1300 Circulation (423) 282-0051 Email news@jcnewsandneighbor.com Online jcnewsandneighbor.com 1114 Sunset Drive, Suite 1 Johnson City, TN 37604

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

4 Letters from Chamber President/CEO Gary Mabrey and Publisher Bill Derby

24 “It’s academic: Chamber’s mission dovetails with educational opportunities”

50 “Convention and Visitor’s Bureau: The adventure continues”

6 “What made Johnson City tick before the Chamber came along”

27 Photos from a Century of Success

52 “Tourism: Driven by nature, history and pre-history”

8 Current Chamber Staff

28 “Business community key in starting health care engines”

10 Photos from a Century of Success

36 Photos from a Century of Success

58 Photos from a Century of Success

11 List of Past Presidents and Chairs

40 “Infrastructure improvements a constant for 100 years”

59 “The more we get together: Intergovernmental cooperation key”

43 Photos from a Century of Success

61 “Points of Pride: Past chairs and presidents look back on a century of accomplishment”

12 Opening the Time Capsule 14 List of Chamber Hall of Fame Recipients 16 “Through changing times, agribusiness a key economic driver” 20 Photos from a Century of Success

44 “Always important: Retail evolves with the times” 46 “From rayon to roller bearings, industry undergirds prosperity”

54 “The Arts: A great story to tell”

63 “CEO and Chairman reflect, look ahead”

Acknowledgements – Just as the Chamber of Commerce relies on the volunteer contributions of its members, Derby Publishing has received help from many quarters in compiling this publication. First and foremost, we owe an extreme debt of gratitude to local historian Alan Bridwell. His website, johnsonsdepot.com, proved indispensible in its provision of abundant photos and written source material. Thanks are also due to the Chamber. Staff and board members, both past and present, provided interviews and photos. We also appreciate the helpfulness of East Tennessee State University, Mountain States Health Alliance and other organizations who provided photos. We hope all those who helped enjoy the results.

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


2015 Chamber of Commerce Staff: Front row Elisa Britt, Glenda Britt, Gary Mabrey, Heather Hill and Brenda Whitson Back row Jennifer Greenwell, Amy Blaine, Gavin Andrews and Barbara Mentgen

Congratulations! Congratulations Job Well Done!

Broyles Florist

A Family Tradition of Quality and Service Since 1947


100 years

Sara Broyles Engel, Owner Operator

214 E. Mountcastle Dr. Johnson City 423.929.2100

258 E. Main St. Jonesborough 423.753.4211


FTD Master Florist


Voted Best Florist in the Local Area 13 Years in a Row

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Wherever life takes you, ECU is


Visit our Johnson City area branches on Broyles Drive across from Target, on North Roan Street beside Food City in Boones Creek, on State of Franklin near Fuddruckers and beside Fresh Market, as well as in Gray and Jonesborough.

Be part of the extraordinary difference.

www.ecu.org • 800.999.2328 Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


CHAMBER OF COMMERCE PAST PRESIDENTS 25TH ANNUAL LUNCHEON – Past presidents of the Chamber of Commerce serving Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County traditionally have been honored with an annual luncheon. This lunch marked the 25th Anniversary event and was held at the Johnson City Country Club a few years ago. In attendance were, from the left, front row: Dr. Larry Calhoun, Dr. Steve Conerly, Vince Hickam, Al Fatheree, Doug Sizemore, Melissa Steagall-Jones, Robert Owens, and Carol Trahan.  Back row left to right: Tom Seaton, Jane Myron, Bill Breeding, Odie Major, Tom McKee, Guy Wilson, Gary Mabrey, Charles Steagall, Phil Carriger and Harold Dishner. Past Presidents/Chairs who could not attend; Tina Bowman, Reno Burleson, Ruth Ellis-DiGregorio, Scott Folsom, John A.  Jones, Bruce Kidd, Lloyd Langdon, Fred Lockett, Richard Manahan, Chuck Mason Jr., Jack Morris, David Ramsay, Kel Smalley, Rick Storey, Ed Street Jr., and Colon Terrell. Bill Breeding originally started this tradition.  Photo by Jeff Derby

Transportation • Traffic • CEI • Bridges & Structural • Surveying Engineering Solutions for Change & Growth

Kingsport • Johnson City • Roanoke Asheville • Statesville

www.matternandcraig.com Water & Wastewater • Stormwater • Industrial/Business Parks 10

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Chamber Past Presidents and Chairs

Top executives

1915 - Amzi Smith 1916 - C.L. Marshall 1917, 18 - Lee F. Miller 1919, 34, 35 - T.F. Dooley 1920 - James A. Summers 1921 - S.R. Jennings 1922 - J. Edward Brading 1923 - B.W. Horner 1924 - E. J. Wagner 1925, 26 - J. W. Ring 1927, 28 - Sam R. Sells 1929, 30, 37, 38 - Jack W. Cummins 1931, 32, 33 - Hammond Prosser 1936 - Henry Black 1939 - H. G. Christiansen 1940 - Allen Harris, Sr. 1941 - D. R. Shearer 1942 - Lester A. Ballew 1943 - Norris M. Langford 1944 - Wallace Calvert 1945 - Fred Yearout 1946 - Truett Siler 1947 - Gates W. Kidd 1948 - Joe B. Jared 1949 - Allen Harris, Jr. 1950 - Joe A. Summers 1951 - Paul T. Hill 1952 - Nat T. Winston 1953 - Ed Backus

1915-17: T.P. Boone

1954 - John M. Moulton 1955 - William S. Sells 1956 - Ike W. Greene 1957, 58 - J. Lafe Cox 1959 - W. W. Faw 1960 - John N. Smoot 1961, 62 - Carl A. Jones 1963 - D.R. Beeson, Jr. 1964 - G. Bruce Kidd 1965 - Alan M. Gump 1966 - John F. Diehl 1967 - Frank Bryant 1968 - Walter Robinson 1969 - Dan B. Wexler 1970 - J. Louis Young 1971 - Fred Lockett, Jr. 1972 - Jack L. Morris 1973, 82 - J.M. Jordan 1974 - James D. Stultz 1975 - Eddie E. Williams, Jr. 1976 - K. E. Wilhoit 1977 - Oris D. Hyder 1978 - A. E. Bill Johnson 1979 - J. Lloyd Langdon 1980 - Reno G. Burleson 1981 - Robert L. Hodges, Jr. 1983 - Ruth W. Ellis 1984 - Ed Street, Jr. 1985 - Steve Conerly

1986 - Vance W. Cheek 1987 - G. Robert Owens 1988 - Bill F. Breeding 1989 - David B. Ramsay 1990 -Dr. Richard A. Manahan 1991 - Tim P. Jones 1992 - Douglas M. Sizemore 1993 - Phillip R. Carriger 1994 - Jane M. Myron 1995 - Harold W. Dishner 1996 - Tom McKee 1997 - Al Fatherree 1998 - Colon Terrell 1999 - Charles Steagall 2000 - Richard K. Storey 2001 - John A. Jones 2002 - Tina Bowman 2003 - Guy Wilson 2004 - Odie Major 2005 - Kel Smalley 2006 - Vince Hickam 2007 - Carol Trahan 2008 - Melissa Steagall-Jones 2009 - Chuck Mason Jr. 2010 - Robert White 2011 - Scott Folsom 2012 - Thomas Seaton 2013 - Dr. Larry Calhoun 2014 - Lottie Ryans

1917-22: William G. Mathes 1922-26: John Wood 1926-27: B.G. Gildersleeve 1927-29: John Wood 1929-31: Harry Faw 1932-35: E.J. Wagner 1936-37: James E. Coad 1940-44: George E. Stewart 1944-46: William P. Pence 1947-50: Penn W. Worden, Jr. 1953-55: Marvin W. Krieger 1956-58: Ed Garland 1958-59: O.C. Lockett 1959-60: Larry Johnson 1960-74: C.R. Strouse 1974-87: James T. Pierce 1988-present: Gary M. Mabrey III

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The original energy booster is available throughout the region in 10 and 12 oz. bottles.

In 1949 the Gordon family began bottling Dr. Enuf, a vitaminenriched lemon-lime soft drink. It was quickly hailed by its makers and consumers alike as “Manna from Heaven,” a description of the drink coined by the formula’s inventor. Dr. Enuf can be found in Wal-Mart, Food City, Kroger, Ingles, Road Runner Markets, Walgreens, Sam’s Club and CVS; as well as many other food and convenience stores within a 200 mile radius. Cracker Barrel Old Time Stores carry Dr. Enuf nation wide.

New Herbal Dr. Enuf adds ginseng and guarana to Dr. Enuf’s original formula along with a classic cherry flavor.

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“Tired of colas? Ready for a refreshing, great tasting, nutritious soft drink? It’s still here. Dr, Enuf, the original energy booster!”....The Dr. Beverage consumers are more health conscious, looking for a change, as proven by the popularity of New Age beverages, such as teas, sport drinks, sparkling waters and fruit beverages. Dr. Enuf fits into this “New Age” even though we’ve been around since 1949. We are the original energy booster, adding vitamins and minerals known to help the body turn sugars into energy. “Rich In Vitamins” is highlighted on many of our Point-of-Sale items to attract this health wise market.

Discover the Legend For Yourself • Tri-City Beverage Corp. • Johnson City, TN • WWW.DRENUF.COM Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


Gary Mabrey digs into the time capsule as Richard Manahan talks about its contents. Photos by Jeff Derby

Congressman Phil Roe enthusiastically sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to the Chamber.

Time capsule opening marks Chamber centennial By Jeff Keeling and Scott Robertson An august yet jovial group of former board chairs joined other chamber members; local, state and federal gov-

ernment leaders; and other dignitaries on the Chamber’s “official” 100th birthday celebration, July 6. Speakers representing the private and public sectors extolled the Chamber

for the crucial role it has played in the community’s growth and prosperity. Congressman Phil Roe, whose political career began across the street from the Chamber headquarters at city hall,

told a crowd of around 150 business and community leaders, “I have had a chance to work with the Chamber and watch business development here in Johnson City for the last 20 years.

Proud Partner with Our Chamber as We Grow Together

John Johnson, MD

Alan McCartt, MD

Michael Shahbazi, MD

Amy Young, MD

Randal Rabon, MD

Jeff Carlsen, MD

James Battle, MD

Calvin Miller, MD

Jennifer Oakley, MD

Peter Lemkin, OD

A Tradition of Excellence in Eye Care since 1942 JOHNSON CITY | BRISTOL 423-929-2111 | johnsoncityeye.com 12

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

The MedSpa at Johnson City Eye Clinic Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Former Chamber Chairs Rick Storey and Ruth Ellis Digregorio examine mementos from the time capsule. Photo by Jeff Keeling

(Chamber President) Gary (Mabrey) has been an amazing leader of this Chamber for decades now and the entire city has been blessed by his leadership.” Mabrey returned the favor, lauding the collaboration between the private sector, represented by the Chamber, and government.

Many of the smiles and memories were elicited by the opening of a time capsule that had been filled with memorabilia from the Chamber’s 75th year in 1990 and then closed up for a quarter century. The celebration followed a quieter meeting inside Mabrey’s office during Monday’s lunch hour. It was then that

s n o i t la ! u t er a r b g m n a o h C C

Leaders from business and government celebrated the Chamber’s centennial. (L-R) Jeremy Ross, David Tomita, Pete Peterson, Lewis Wexler, Bill Darden and Steve Darden. Photo by Jeff Derby

Mabrey and his 1990 chairman, Richard Manahan, took their first look at what had gone into the time capsule all those years ago. “There’s some great things in there,” Mabrey said as the pair pulled out photo after photo, copies of the “Johnson City Business” magazine, and treats

such as an oversized championship ring commemorating the East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team’s success. In the end, Mabrey said he had three things to say to the community on behalf of the Chamber. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

CENTRAL PAPER Since & SUPPLY CO. 1938 Proudly Serving Hotel/Motel, Restaurants, Convenience Stores and YOU!

Robert L. Hodges, Jr. 1923-2009 • Chamber President, 1981 • Inducted into Chamber of Commerce Hall

Robert L. Hodges, lll, Elizabeth (Tibby) Hodges, President and Joseph W. Hodges

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC! Shop Online, By Phone or Walk-In

A Pyramid of Paper Products Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

of Fame, 1990 • Started Monthly Chamber Breakfasts

101 Lafe Cox Drive, Johnson City 423-928-8211 | centralpapertn.com Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


Hall of Fame Recipients 1981 – Mac McDonnell

1998 – G. Robert Owens

1982 – James Powell

1999 – Dr. Frank Anderson

1983 – Allen Harris, Jr.

2000 – Ed Sherwood

1984 – A.E. Bill Johnson

2001 – William Hawkins

1985 – Dr. Charles Allen

2002 – Hanes Lancaster, Jr.

1986 – Niles Gray

2003 – Ruth Ellis

1987 – Carl A. Jones

2004 – Steve G. Conerly

1988 – Louise Sells

2005 – Dennis Powell

1989 – Steve Lacy

2006 – Reno Burleson

1990 – Robert L. Hodges, Jr.

2007 – Dr. Paul Stanton, Jr.

1991 – Vance Cheek

2008 – Jane Myron

1992 – Janelle Bowman

2009 – Tim Jones

1993 – John Seward, Sr.

2010 – Odie Major

1994 – Eddie Williams, Jr.

2011 – P.C. Snapp

1994 – Charles O. Gordon

2011 – Charles Steagall

1995 – D.R. Dick Beeson, Jr.

2012 – Dr. Richard Manahan

1995 – Mary P. Wood

2013 – Dennis L. Vonderfecht

1996 – Jim Kalogeros

2013 – Martha Nan Meredith

1997 – Lewis Wexler, Sr.

2014 – Guy B. Wilson, Jr.


Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


“They don’t control the weather. They don’t control the market. They’re out there before you get to work and they’re still out there after dark a lot of times, too. It takes a special person to be a farmer.” Roy Settle – Assistant VP, Ag Lending Division, First Bank & Trust Member, Chamber of Commerce Agriculture and Business Committee

Through changing times, agribusiness a key economic driver By Sarah Colson

rant that sources its products locally) and I see where all the food came from. On most summer mornings, citizens There’s a grocery store down in Jonesof Washington County can enjoy some borough (Boone Street Market) that of the harvest of local farmers. And sells only local goods.” driving along the Nolichucky River, And while the importance of agriculmost will notice the colorful production ture in the area cannot be questioned, of crops like tomatoes and strawberries. the methods of agriculture have been From farmer’s market treasures to the changing and adapting since the beginlarge farming retail stores in the area, ning of the settlement of Tennessee in the most recent market value of all agri- the mid-1700s. cultural products in Washington County Initially, First Bank & Trust’s Roy alone is over $38 million. Settle said, farmers, “were raising every From its inception, the Chamber of thing their families needed to survive. Commerce has worked alongside the Then they started raising things that agricultural community, helping farmthey could sell. Tobacco was a big part ing transition from a subsistence way of of that—used to be a very large comlife to the multimillion dollar business modity in this area.” it has become today. In the past de Soon, farmers began to realize that cade, the Chamber has been in lockstep working together would allow them with the agricultural sector as growing to not only acquire a wider variety of numbers of farmers have capitalized on produce, but also to profit from sales ever-increasing consumer demand for enough to produce a more specialized local products. product. “Among those things my bosses did Settle said part of that realization several years ago was step back into the moved the Chamber to be the main ag part of this economy,” Chamber CEO component driving the opening of Gary Mabrey said. “I go to Gourmet the Appalachian Fairgrounds in 1926, and Company (a Johnson City restauwhich further aided the agricultural 16

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

Congratulations and Thanks! Chamber of Commerce

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Johnson City 2244 North Roan St. #104 423.232.5050 Kingsport 1880 N Eastman Rd 423.765.9509 Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

development and sharing of ideas and products in the area. Realizing a need to organize this very powerful machine of agriculture, a group of local farmers established the Washington Farmers Co-op in 1945 to provide the “local farming community with a reliable source of agricultural inputs such as feed, fertilizer and fuel.” As with any rural area, the types of agricultural products East Tennessee could produce were unique. For instance, tobacco, while less prevalent today, was once a highly valued source of income for many farmers. “That has changed with the tobacco buyout that took place, which took the management of how much tobacco people could raise out of the government’s hands,” Settle explained. “Farmers that had allotments got paid for those to help them transition out of their dependence on tobacco farming.” In addition to the tobacco industry, the dairy industry used to be a main player in Washington County’s revenue. An April 1957 edition of the Chamber’s newsletter, the Johnson City Challenger, reports the opening of a “new industry for Washington County, the

Franklin Milk Corporation.” The event, the Challenger reported, marked the “first result of the vitalized Chamber of Commerce program to attract industry to the area.” The plant was built on 3.5 acres west of Jonesborough, provided jobs for about 70 employees, and produced up to one half million pounds of milk per day, providing an estimated $234,000 more annual retail sales. Dairy and tobacco both maintain a significant if declining presence locally, but today the most prominent agricultural product in the area is livestock. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, of Washington County’s more than $38 million agricultural value, 66 percent of that is in livestock sales. Settle said, “We are the fifth in the number of total cattle, beef and dairy in the state of Tennessee, which makes it significant.” While the world of agriculture is constantly adapting to variables beyond the farmer’s control, one thing is certain: agriculture affects the entire city’s economy. Settle said agriculture accounts for

A photo from the December 1957 Johnson City Challenger Chamber of Commerce newsletter shows equipment at a newly opened milk processing plant. Photo courtesy Chamber of Commerce

25 percent of his bank’s total business. He said that is the reason why buying local is so vital to farmers in the area. “What farmers spend on seed, fertilizer and feed through Washington Farmer’s Co-op, Mize and Southern States Co-op and other retailers around is very significant,” he said. “Those places have significant employment and run

a lot of dollars through.” Then, figuring the amount of fuel farmers buy and the tractors, trucks and other supplies they purchase at places like West Hills Tractor in Jonesborough, Mead Tractor, and Kubota in Johnson City, the revenue continues to SEE AGRICULTURE, 18

The Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy at East Tennessee State University salutes the Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County

Chamber of Commerce on 100 years of outstanding service to this campus and the region.

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015



took to get there, all the equipment, may have been bought locally. It puts add up. so much more back into our economy “Those are all businesses that are when you buy locally-grown food.” primarily dependent upon farmers,” Realizing the importance of proSettle added. “If agriculture were to be moting the agricultural economy, the curtailed or cut back significantly in Chamber of Commerce created the Washington County, there are a lot of Agriculture and Business Committee. businesses, some that may not think The committee has organized agriculabout it or the public may not think ture appreciation dinners that draw about, that would lose. Agriculture con- attention to the importance, scope and tributes to the overall economy here.” magnitude of agriculture in Washing To help that overall economy, there ton County. Some proceeds from those are some ways the public can get indinners help fund transportation to the volved. Shopping at the local farmer’s Appalachian Fair for schoolchildren, market is one great way to keep local many of whom learn about farming for money local. Along with supporting the first time on those trips. the local ag movement, Settle encour “For the Chamber of Commerce to aged people to speak up to their local revisit ag as part of our economy, as grocery store and ask to see more local important to our economy, hearkens products sold. back to the ‘90s, the ‘80s, the ‘70s, the “When you buy a local tomato or wa- ‘60s, the Burley Bowl parade and tobactermelon or pound of sausage,” he said, co,” Mabrey said. “So it’s good in the “that contributes more to our economy 21st century that we’re saying, ‘we need than if you buy a pound of sausage or to revisit that,’ because it’s been here tomato from somewhere else. If you before. I was really proud of our board buy sausage from somebody local, the to take that on, and look at the results.” feed for that may have been raised here Settle said he and the Chamber or was bought here and everything it wanted to be “an advocate for agricul-

Chamber members, farmers, and other members of the agribusiness community at the Appalachian Fairgrounds following the 2014 agribusiness dinner announcement. Photo by Jeff Keeling

ture” and to make sure people understood that “agriculture is still very much a part of Washington County.” “$38 million is nothing to sneeze at,” he said. “To try and benefit your local community, speak with how you

spend that dollar. Shop intentionally. You’re supporting more than just the farmer. It’s all very much connected.”

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

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‘Johnson City is proud of her great Mercantile Establishments, Manufacturing Industries, Financial Institutions and the character of her Public Buildings, Churches, Schools, State Normal School, Clubs, National Soldiers’ Home, Residential Districts and Streets.’ – Promotional guidebook, 1917

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

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Johnson City hasn’t lacked for assets to promote since the dawn of the Chamber of Commerce. Just two years into the Chamber’s existence, its businesses had sufficient optimism to provide plentiful advertising for a 96-page promotional guidebook, excerpts of which appear on these two pages. In some ways, little has changed. The book promotes Johnson City’s location in a region, “famous in history,

and renowned for natural beauty…” It stresses, as economic developers still do today, the area’s “central location for all markets,” and emphasizes its superior rail network. In other respects, as it makes a hard sell to industry and suggests, “there is no doubt that Johnson City is destined to be one of the principal manufacturing points in the south,” the book reflects bygone realities. It boasts of abundant

mining capabilities, and of the fact that, “More than TEN MILLION DOLLARS’ WORTH OF POULTRY AND EGGS, are shipped from Tennessee annually, the larger part being shipped from here and nearby towns.” But it is a section under “Industrial Opportunities” that perhaps best sums up an aspect of the metro area that has transcended time and remains a key to prosperity and growth in any economic

sector: “Statistics cannot show all that Johnson City offers for the manufacturer who is seeking a new location. First and best, Johnson City will share with the manufacturer the spirit of success. The spirit of success, intangible and indescribable, is a co-mixer of confidence, perseverance and willingness to win by any amount of hard work, but under no conditions to fail.”

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It’s academic:

Chamber’s mission dovetails with educational opportunities By Sarah Colson and Jeff Keeling

At that time, education was thought important, but it was not quite the kind of 1960: Chamber begins the drive to education we think of today. Education get university status for then East Tenwas the responsibility of the church and nessee State College. the home. Parents wanted their children 1971: Chamber participates in disto learn trades instead of math and phicussions to gain support for a medical losophy, and organized school systems school in Northeast Tennessee. Trips were not in place. are coordinated, letters are written, and That all changed when John Sevier fundraising efforts take place. became the first governor of Tennessee 1998: Chamber begins Youth Leadin 1796. In 1806, he reached an agreeership Program for area high school ment with the United States government students. for the title to thousands of acres of land 2002: Chamber begins participation known as the Hiwassee District. The land in Tennessee Scholars Program. was intended to be sold by Tennessee for 2003: College of Pharmacy concept the benefit of public education. While the begins; $5 million raised in 2005. sale didn’t produce much financial profit, it was the beginning of a public school The Chamber of Commerce’s own system for the state of Tennessee. timeline shows it, particularly in the One of those schools was Oak Hill past half-century – the topic of educaSchool, which served grades one through tion never strays far from the top of the eight until its closure in 1952, according priority list. The focus continues a strong to heritageall.org. The school was a twotradition established by the Chamber’s room building and had no electricity until predecessor, the Commercial Club, and 1941. Today, the school sits behind the is part of a tradition stretching back Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center much further than that. and welcomes many school-aged children Today’s laser-like focus on preparon field trips every year. Those children ing young people for the workforce and today are a product of a long-standing for higher education – embodied in tradition of emphasis on education in the Chamber-led Tennessee Scholars Washington County, dating back to Oak program – is the natural evolution of a Hill and others that followed. nearly 250-year trend. Science Hill High School, originally In the 1760s as settlers started to named Science Hill Male and Female make their way west over the mountains Institute, opened its doors in 1867 as a of East Tennessee, what is now Washing- private school before eventually becomton County became quite the settlement. ing a free public school. A year earlier,

Celebrating Your Centennial Success!

Northside Elementary School, early 1900s. Photo courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

Milligan College had opened its doors just a few miles east of Johnson City. The Christian liberal arts school has played an increasingly important role in the area’s business community, including

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in Washington County came when Johnson City was chosen as the site for the East Tennessee State Normal School, now, of course, known as East Tennessee State University. Several other cities in Tennessee were seriously considered and it took leadership on behalf of numerous people to bring the school to Johnson City. According to Frank Williams’ book, “A University’s Story 1911-1980,” “a week after the legislature adjourned on April 30, 1909, a newspaper reporter detected the development of a ‘hot rivalry’ in East Tennessee . . . One leader of the movement in Johnson City was Cy H. Lyle, owner of the Johnson City Comet, who kept his readers informed of legislative action and cited advantages the town and Washington County had to offer. At a meeting in early June, the city council, with many businessmen present in the audience, approved a $50,000 bond issue (later raised to $75,000). Soon thereafter a committee from the city’s Commercial Club….met with the county court to explain what the normal school would mean to the region.” Lyle himself wasn’t shy in beating the drum for Johnson City. A page on johnsonsdepot.com relates an Oct. 15, 1909 Nashville American report concerning the upcoming visit that day of Lyle and several other prominent Johnson Citians, who planned to exhort the state board of education to select the city as the site for East Tennessee Normal. The page also includes the text of Lyle’s plea, which he reprinted six days later in his own paper. Humorously bombastic, it touted the God-given virtues of the city – natural resources, climate and more – adding: “It is the most rapidly growing town in the south and property acquired will continually enhance in value as the years roll into history.” Nor did Lyle neglect to mention the, “material reasons equally as compelling.” In addition to the city’s $75,000 commitment, they included an equal offer from Washington County, along with free land, free water and electric lights, a paved street and sidewalks to the site, “and everything else done that may be desired by the state board of education.” And that’s how Johnson City became the home of what is now ETSU. Originally, two courses of study were offered. A four-year academic course included subjects taught in “first-class high schools,” Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

The leaders of tomorrow, then and now: The Science Hill High School Class of 1916... Photos courtesy Chamber of Commerce

...and the Youth Leadership Class of the Johnson City Chamber circa 2015.

and a more advanced ‘normal course’ required two years to complete and included lower-division college courses in a wide variety of subjects. ETSU’s first president, Sidney G. Gilbreat,h took his job of selecting faculty seriously, understanding the impact those teachers would have not only in the lives of their students, but on the success of the city as a whole. Williams writes, “In selecting his faculty Gilbreath deliberately chose as many qualified and experienced native East Tennesseans as he could find. They would, he believed, be sympathetic to the needs of the region’s students.” As Gilbreath might have predicted, pre-k to post-graduate education in

Washington County was changed forever because of the site of the normal school where ETSU is today. ETSU has made strides in the health care education fields, which has not only brought highly educated professionals and students to the area, but has helped the region’s economy soar and the region’s rural health improve. Founded in 1974, the Quillen College of Medicine has graduated more than 1,500 students and leads the nation as one of the most prominent schools for rural medicine and primary care training. That still leaves the matter of K-12 education, and there, too, the Chamber has been heavily involved. From hosting career fairs to advocating for standards

that best prepare students for work or college, its members help lead efforts designed to set the table for a prosperous future. The Chamber’s 2014 chair and a Johnson City school board member, Lottie Ryans said the Chamber’s education committee has played an integral role in the school systems’ approach to education. Part of that involvement is making sure businesses are in the loop as far as what schools are teaching their students so that those businesses will have a better idea of where their future employees are and what their goals are for the workplace. The Chamber SEE EDUCATION, 26 Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


The old Science Hill High School downtown...

EDUCATION, Continued

...and the “new” Science Hill in the early 1960s. Photos courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

been an report for exciting its rapid is providing a place for conversation partnerimproveto happen to make sure to minimize ship.” ment, the “gaps” that exist between what the Chamber including schools are teaching and what business- of Comthis note: es need their employees to know. merce “Ten “The Chamber is very involved in CEO Gary nessee working on the various skills gap initiaMabrey is poised tives, skills gap studies, those types of said that to see things, to make sure that the business’ evolution improved voice was heard and also that businesses to which outcomes understood what school systems, both Ryans for stuWashington County and Johnson City refers dents as schools are focusing on,” Ryans said. “I simply folimplethink everybody recognizes that jobs are lows many A 1926 South Side Elementary diploma. mentation what it’s all about and to be able to have years of of reform the business community tied to educaadvocacy efforts tion is just natural.” on the Chamber’s part. Its members have continue.” Ryans also said that like Gilbreath lobbied strongly for high K-12 standards, Mabrey said the metro area offers understood 100 years ago, it is important particularly following 2007’s United high-quality K-12 education in setto have people in city leadership who States Chamber of Commerce Foundatings ranging from private schools (St. have ties to the local school systems. tion’s “Leaders and Laggards” report Mary’s, Ashley Academy and Providence “Many of us came through the comparing states’ educational achieveAcademy among them) and a strong Johnson City or the Washington County ment. The study ranked Tennessee low, home-schooling environment to the system,” she said. “So there is also that but it particularly showed the state sufJohnson City and Washington County affinity I think that’s very strong and fered from a lack of transparency about public school systems. Those public important.” its actual performance relative to other systems consistently punch above their As for that relationship between the states, earning it an F grade in “Truth in weight, results-wise, especially in relaChamber and educational systems in the Advertising: Student Proficiency.” tion to financial resources. region, Ryans said it continues to evolve Pushed in part by the state cham “That’s pretty good, that we can get throughout the years. ber and local affiliates, the state has the results that we’re getting,” Mabrey “It continues to be at a higher level done something on both counts. A 2014 said. “I think our TCAP (standardof engagement,” she added, “and I think update gives Tennessee one of just three ized test) scores, from what I saw this that you’ll see that ramp even higher A’s in Truth in Advertising. The state re- morning, we knocked the top off it again. over the next three to years so it’s really ceives notice in the narrative of the 2014 We’re getting there. We’re not there, but 26

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

we’re getting there.” Getting those foundations right is the gateway to future prosperity, Mabrey said, because it means increasing numbers of high school graduates are ready for post-secondary education or the workplace. Those young people will have an additional local opportunity this fall when Northeast State Community College opens its downtown Johnson City teaching site. “Some part of our work is going to involve the word education – higher, post-secondary, technical and the like – and how we continue to expand our minds to see the global change, balance all of the programs, and remind young men and women, ‘yes some of you do need four-year degrees, some of you need eight-year degrees, some of you can have a career with a phenomenal certificate.’ “So (it matters) how we change that conversation so that, yep, we want our schools to put out the multimillion dollar scholarship recipients, but we want that cadre of young men and women graduating from our high schools that can go to TCAT (Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Elizabethton), that can come out here and work for Jeff (2015 Chamber Chair and Citi’s Gray location President Jeff Jones) – who can be a pharmacy tech and have a career.”

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

BURLEY BOWL…A JOHNSON CITY THANKSGIVING TRADITION—Almost everyone in town and surrounding communities attended the annual Burley Bowl parade each Thanksgiving morning in downtown Johnson City followed by the football game by a local college at Memorial Stadium. High School and college bands, civic clubs and others sponsored floats for the festive parade which kicked off the burley tobacco auction season. There was even a Burley Bowl Queen contest. The event ran from post-war 1945 through 1956. Regional college teams played in the annual game.

Results of the Burley Bowl

Helen Walker, left, was crowned Tennessee Dairy Princess for 1962-63. Miss Walker represented Washington County and was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.

1. 01-01-1946 High Point 7 Milligan 7 2. 11-28-1946 Southeastern LA 21 Milligan 13 3. 11-27-1947 West Chester 20 Carson-Newman 6 4. 11-25-1948 West Chester 7 App State 2 5. 11-24-1949 Emory & Henry 32 Hanover 0 6. 11-23-1950 Emory & Henry 26 App State 6

EARLY PRO-TO CLUB DINNER DANCE–The Pro-To Club was founded in 1952 and is the oldest African-American organization in Washington County. The Pro-To Club, (Progress/Together Club), has been able to award financial support to students and to promote community service and learning. Pro-To Club scholarships are given to graduating seniors of Washington County who have great academics along with excellent character.

In a recent newspaper story, Walter Buford, scholarship committee, said the club helped promote positive and diverse relationships throughout the community. “It helped bind the community,” Buford said. “It helped give direction in the community to make progress together. That’s what it’s all about. Progress together in us, through us and around us.” Photo courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

Photo courtesy Chamber of Commerce

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

7. 11-22-1951 Charleston 27 Lebanon Valley 20 8. 11-27-1952 ETSU 24 Emory & Henry 16 9. 11-25-1953 ETSU 48 Emory & Henry 12 10. 11-25-1954 App State 28 ETSU 13 11. 11-24-1955 ETSU 7 App State 0 12. 11-17-1956 Memphis 32 ETSU 12

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


An ad for the first Memorial Hospital, which operated from 1911-1921. Photos courtesy Chamber of Commerce

An early photo of what is now the VA complex at Mountain Home. Photos courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

Business community key in starting healthcare engines

By Jeff Keeling

establishments of a children’s hospital, a college of pharmacy, and the state’s “According to Dr. (Carroll) Long, first “green” hospital might have seemed the first local business man to push quite natural to one whose arrival was the concept of a community hospital predated by the creation of Mountain owned and operated by community States Health Alliance. Mountain States’ forces was Wallace Calvert, the 1944 growth into Southwest Virginia and the president of the Johnson City Chamber ready availability of practitioners in a of Commerce. ‘Mr. Calvert carried the growing variety of specialties – those idea through the chamber of commerce developments, too, may have been barely and led the chamber into a significant worthy of a second thought to a person fund-raising campaign,’ said Dr. Long.” who not only didn’t remember but didn’t – Ray Stahl, “A Beacon To Health Care” even know about the fight for the Quillen (The Story of the Johnson City Medical College of Medicine, much less the comCenter Hospital) munity effort in the 1940s that led to the construction of Memorial Hospital. “We were really starting to think A little context is good, and even and plan that back in those days. Gary more is better when it comes to gaining Mabrey and Larry Calhoun were an appreciation for the role medical involved – we were on the steering care has played in the city’s growth and committee talking to Dr. Franks and the development. One thing such context university people and trying to get that reveals is the indispensable role the idea planted. It took hold and we opened community’s political and business the College of Pharmacy in 2005. We leaders have played in keeping the health were working with Gov. Bredesen to care economy moving down the track raise the money that we needed. He in this railroad town. Another thing it challenged us and that turned out to be shows is how the medical and health care a success.” community has been at the forefront of – Guy Wilson, 2003 Chamber of making Washington County the region’s Commerce Chair most ethnically diverse location. Anyone arriving on the Johnson City Early days lay the groundwork scene in this century and without proper When Johnson City was in its infancontext might shrug his shoulders at the cy, the community had few doctors, but extent to which medical care underpins several very good ones, according to the local economy. The 21st century Stahl’s “A Beacon To Health Care.” Two 28

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

of note were Dr. E.S. Miller, of the Lamar Community, and Hezekiah Hankal, an African American physician in Johnson City whose skill during the cholera epidemic of 1873 was such that he didn’t lose any patients to the often deadly disease. Medicine was the stuff of house calls and rare surgeries performed in the crude conditions of the day. Then came the end of the 19th century, when an influential First District Congressman named Walter Brownlow petitioned for the establishment of a new branch of the National Soldiers Home. The bureaucrats overseeing the nation’s eight homes for Civil War veterans had turned the responsibility for any future homes over to the states. Brownlow, who represented one of the former Confederacy’s most Unionheavy areas, swung into action. Reminding Board of Governors members that East Tennessee had furnished 30,000 Union volunteers and that the First Congressional District had more than 18,000 Union pensioners still living, Brownlow won over the board, which issued a report calling for a federally funded branch to be built in the First District. Then it was the business community’s turn. According to a Mountain Home VA history document, the Johnson City Board of Trade (a precursor to the Chamber) helped Brownlow distribute 10,000 copies of the Board’s report to Congress, and Brownlow’s comments to the board. Those copies went to influ-

ential veterans’ groups, who petitioned Congress, and in 1903, Mountain Home was completed, and Johnson City’s property values had doubled. While Mountain Home pumped significant resources into the local economy and continued to do so over the years, it was not initially established with a medical-intensive focus. Rather, it was based on a domiciliary theme, with the concept of veteran’s hospitals still some way into the future. Memorial Hospital and the road to Mountain States Mention “healthcare economy” around here and the words “Mountain States” and “Quillen College of Medicine” come to mind as quickly as any. But to adequately tell the story of either organization, one must reach back much further than the medical school’s creation in 1974 or the hospital system’s founding in 1998. Indeed, the roots go much deeper than the construction of Johnson City Medical Center in 1980, or the 1944 Johnson City Chamber of Commerce-led contract with the physician-owned Appalachian Hospital and Training School promising to promote a new, community-owned hospital (that hospital opened in 1951 as Memorial Hospital). In fact, as chronicled so thoroughly by Stahl in “A Beacon To Health Care,” Mountain States’ roots can be traced to Johnson City’s first hospital, which

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opened its doors in 1911 on East Fairview Avenue. It was organized by six local doctors, had 10 beds, and was superintended by Amy Young, a 20-year-old who also served as “chief nurse.” There were two other nurses. As it was with Mountain Home and as it is up to the present day with the pharmacy school or Niswonger Children’s Hospital, the business community was a key player. The first Memorial Hospital was converted from a house for the sum of $2,000 raised through public subscriptions and individual and business donations. By 1915, it had grown to 30 beds and moved to Seventh Avenue and the former home of Johnson City Comet editor Cy Lyle. Even 100 years ago, the problem of charity care was significant. An August 1915 issue of the Johnson City Staff reported that Memorial had provided 233 free patient-days through seven months of the year at an approximate total cost of $1,165 (yes, $5 per day per patient). The city paid the hospital a flat rate of $25 monthly to help offset those costs, which at that point amounted to $175, or 15 percent of cost. In 1921 the new Appalachian Hospi-

tal, with a 60-bed capacity, opened at the corner of Boone and Myrtle streets. The hospital struggled through the Depression, but continued serving patients and functioning as a nurses’ training school. But as Stahl wrote, “In addition to the obligations of their medical profession, the doctors had the legal and business responsibilities of ownership and the stress of hospital management.” By 1944, the community was ready for a hospital with a community governing board consisting of laypeople, not doctors, and the Chamber of Commerce led a fundraising campaign. It contracted with the Appalachian Hospital and Training School, Inc. The Chamber’s pledge, according to Stahl’s book? To promote a new hospital corporation and, more importantly, figure out how to raise the money for a new hospital. That hospital would be, “a community enterprise promoted largely by voluntary subscriptions and donations.” Were the fundraising to be successful, the hospital would transfer its assets to the new corporation. The effort had its fits and starts, but working in concert with a newly formed SEE HEALTHCARE, 30

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HEALTHCARE, Continued Community Council, the Chamber of Commerce was integral in raising nearly $600,000 by 1947. The result was the opening in 1951 of Memorial Hospital, 19 years after the first proposal to change the local hospital from a doctor-owned and managed one to a community-owned entity. Edgar Stohler became the first administrator of Memorial, which was a combination of a renovated Appalachian and a new building with 32 private and 36 semi-private rooms. Allan Harris Jr. (the Chamber’s 1949 chair) was the hospital board’s first president. Chairing the original six medical divisions were Drs. A.J. Willis (general practice), L.W. Hunt (medicine), John Hankins (radiology), E.T. West (surAs the 20th century dawned, Congressman gery), C.W. Friberg (ob/gyn) and J.R. Walter P. Brownlow led the fight to establish Bowman (pediatrics). Dr. J.G. Moss was a National Soldier’s Home in Johnson City. Photos courtesy johnsonsdepot.com chairman of the medical staff.

The soldier’s home comes in handy Through the following three decades, the hospital grew in its offerings and sophistication. East Tennessee State College gained university status

and continually increased its role in training nurses and other health care professionals. But in 1968, new ETSU president D.P. Culp saw the potential for more, and stated as his major goal the establishment of a med school. It

included business, academic, political and medical leaders, three years after Culp’s appointment the Tennessee Higher Education Commission released a study – supported by the Board of Regents – concluding a medical school in Northeast Tennessee wouldn’t be cost-effective. At nearly the same time, though, the federal Teague-Cranston Act paved the way for establishment of five new medical schools in underserved areas, and in conjunction with established VA hospitals. With Congressman Jimmy Quillen working hard as an advocate, the act became law in 1972. Despite opposition from Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn, area legislators mustered the votes necessary for a veto override, and on March 12, 1974, Tennessee Seven decades later, Congressman James approved the creation of what is today H. Quillen helped lead the fight to expand Quillen College of Medicine. Mountain Home’s mission with the establish From that point forward, the metro ment of a medical school. area’s status as a medical mecca accelwasn’t out of the blue, as his predeces- erated rapidly. In less than a decade, the business and other civic leaders sor, Burgin Dossett, had begun subtly comprising the hospital board had led lobbying for a medical school in 1961. a drive to build a new medical center To say there were hurdles would be an understatement. Despite a star-studded array of supporters that SEE HEALTHCARE, 32

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Citi employees take pride in serving our community. In fact, many non-profit organizations that we support today, were introduced by contacts made through the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce.

Thank you Johnson City, Jonesborough, Washington County Chamber of Commerce for

100 Remarkable Years of growth and service in our community.

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015



Johnson City Medical Center’s southwest section includes a new surgery tower. Photo courtesy Mountain States Health Alliance

just west of the VA and med school campus. The medical college sent people out and developed a reputation for rural and primary care – buttressed by

the state’s largest nursing program and a growing array of other health-related teaching areas such as public health. At the same time, Johnson City Medi-

cal Center Hospital, as the new facility was called, drew increasing numbers of specialists thanks in part to the medical school.

The last quarter century has seen continued advancements in care and growth in the sector. The creation of Mountain States Health Alliance, Niswonger

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Children’s Hospital and ETSU’s Gatton College of Pharmacy represent only part of that growth, which has in turn fueled the economy. The Chamber was a key cog in those endeavors, and continues to be today as the region’s health care landscape undergoes continued change. The proposed merger of Mountain States and Wellmont Health System envisions ETSU playing a key role in a new “health improvement organization.” With goals as oriented to prevention and research as they are to hospital care, the new system promises a major transformation that will greatly impact the business community. The Chamber’s immediate past chair, Lottie Ryans, says the organization is taking a leadership role in getting facts out to the community, just as it did with the creation of the pharmacy school a decade ago. “We have always felt that having proper information in front of people is very important,” Ryans says. “With the Wellmont-Mountain States merger we spent a lot of time with leaders from both boards and both organizations and really made sure we understood what we

Research at ETSU’s Quillen College of Medicine is a key component of the medical economy. Photo courtesy ETSU

were weighing in on.” Ultimately, Chamber CEO Gary Mabrey says, this latest shift in the region’s health care economy has the potential to yield major rewards with its

Specialized surgery being performed at Johnson City Medical Center. Photo courtesy Mountain States Health Alliance

focus on research and prevention. “When that occurs, all of a sudden we’re at a whole other level of health care, preventive health care, metrics that will allow us to do the big work, which is research.

And when we research, then we can recruit and then when we recruit, we’re bringing in that entrepreneurial research person – and then all we need is one patent from this merger that sets us on the map.”

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


Your Chamber today The Chamber coordinates a variety of membership activities to promote interaction among the business members. • Membership Breakfasts - Held the 2nd Wednesday of each month February through November. • Business After Hours - Chamber members host other members at their place of business for a fun, informal, non-structured social networking time. • Business Seminars - Business seminars during the year.

• Chamber Networking Expo - Business-to-business event.  • Annual Membership Meeting - The official exchange of the gavel between Board chairs at this luncheon event and Hall of Fame announcement.   • Golf Tournament – Annual membership golf tournament. • Taste of Johnson City - An evening of fine food and beverage from area restaurateurs and distributors.

Agriculture dinner at Appalachian Fairgrounds. Photo courtesy Chamber of Commerce

Citizens Bank’s Rick Storey and Jake Harris got some help and fielded a foursome at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual golf tournament in June 2015. L–R: Storey, Charlie Glass, Robbie Atkinson, Harris. Photo by Jeff Derby

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Ribbon Cutting at the Reeves Eye Institute. Photo courtesy Chamber of Commerce

Enjoying a cool evening at Taste of Johnson City are, left to right: Bob Armstrong, Vickie Armstrong, Barbara Gage and Donna Hopson. Photo by Jeff Williams Faith in Future Awards Chamber event co-sponsored with CenturyLink. Photo by Jeff Derby

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Chamber members Harold Dishner, left, and Bill Breeding, roll out Johnson City’s 125th Anniversary cake in 1994 during a Chamber celebration. Photos courtesy Chamber of Commerce

Part of the Chamber’s “Chuck Wagon Gang” grill for the annual picnic. Helping are Jim Jordan, left, and Eddie Williams in his famous cowboy hat. President Gerald R. Ford was a guest speaker for the Presidential Distinguished Lecture Series on East Tennessee State University’s campus Jan. 23, 1990. Welcoming President Ford are Dr. Paul and Nancy Stanton. The event was co-sponsored by the Johnson City/ Jonesborough/Washington County Chamber of Commerce. The event was also in celebration of the Chamber’s 75th Anniversary. Photos courtesy Chamber of Commerce

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (Tweetsie) Railroad line connected Western North Carolina’s mines and forests to... Photo by Steve Patterson, Classic Trains Magazine

...the foundries in Johnson City during the early portion of the century.

By Scott Robertson

of both people and product. Within the last few decades, as industry’s focus shifted from unskilled manufacturing to specialized manufacturing and the service industry boomed, education and training were aided by the broadband

Photo courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

Infrastructure improvements a constant for 100 years In the early days of the twentieth century, the expansion of the rail network The story of the growth of Johnson drove economic growth in the region. City, Jonesborough and Washington Through the next 100 years, a constantly County over the last century is a story of widening network of highways has augconnections. mented the railroads’ utility as a mover


Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

infrastructure revolution. All along the pathway of growth, the Chamber of Commerce has been a facilitator in the process of making those connections.

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Transportation Before the Chamber existed, Johnson City was seen as a possible mining boomtown, the “Pittsburgh of the South,” with railroads running coal from Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia right out of downtown Johnson City. When the chamber came into being, however, the region was just beginning to make the transition from a rail economy to a road economy. According to “The Railroad History of Washington County” found at johnsonsdepot.com, “During World War I, the Cranberry Mines (of North Carolina) were producing 60,000 tons of ore annually. Johnson City became the supply hub for the area served by the railroad. In the 1920s traffic began to dwindle as the lumber was depleted and the mines worked out. In 1929, the mines and the furnace at Johnson City were shut down.” As the Chamber worked to bring in new industry and business to replace the faltering mining sector, its leaders understood the growing importance of paved highway connectivity. So when the Chamber worked in conjunction with the Elizabethton Chamber to recruit Bemberg and Glanzstoff, two German textile companies to the region in 1925, it also pushed for the creation of a highway between Johnson City and Elizabethton. Just so, a highway from Johnson City to Boone, N.C. was completed in 1931. Washington County was emerging from the isolation that pervaded communities throughout Appalachia. The region took a giant leap forward in 1937 when Tri-Cities Regional Airport opened, initially serving as a military field and flight instruction site, but later growing into a boon to business travelers and holiday-makers alike. In the last few decades, two road projects have had significant economic impact on Johnson City and Washington County, one internal and the other regional. State of Franklin Road took the better part of a decade to complete, from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. It opened the western half of Johnson City to commerce as a loop road running from downtown, where it replaced Walnut Street as the main thoroughfare running to East Tennessee State University, west till it turns north where Walnut Street once became “the old JonesborPublished by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Construction on State of Franklin Road began in the mid-1980s, with the first leg connecting East Tennessee State University...

ough Highway,” then past the Johnson City Medical Center, alongside MedTech Park to the point where it meets Highway 11E on the way toward Bristol. At roughly the same time State of Franklin work was getting into full swing, Johnson City planners Alan Bridwell and Don Kiel began pushing the idea of redesignating Highway 23 in Johnson City “Interstate 181.” In 1986, Tennessee made the replacement of the old winding highway to the North Carolina border a priority, beginning a project that would push Interstate 181 to the Tarheel State line. Once North Carolina finished its own improvement project from Mars Hill to Sams Gap at the Tennessee border, Interstate 181 was redesignated “Interstate 26.” I-26 now runs from the Tennessee-Virginia line at Kingsport to Charleston, South Carolina, through Johnson City, though the section from Asheville to the Tennessee state line is still technically designated “Future 26” because of a short stretch in Asheville that does not yet meet Interstate standards. Today, road projects continue to improve the business-friendliness of city and county. Highway 36, which runs between Johnson City and Kingsport is being widened in a long stretch between Boones Creek and the Airport Highway. The Gray

...to downtown Johnson City. State of Franklin Road would eventually loop around North Johnson City to the Bristol Highway. Photo courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

interchange over Interstate 26 is about to shed its “choke point” status as the bridge over the interstate is widened to accommodate higher traffic volumes. Technology In the last two to three decades, the word infrastructure took on a whole new meaning when discussing community capabilities. Sure, power,

water, sewer and other related utilities remain important to those who decide where businesses should locate. But IT infrastructure has gone from being a non-factor to a deal-breaker. The lines between the office and the home are blurring at a remarkable rate, mainly because employees can use smartphones, tablets and phablets to do SEE INFRASTRUCTURE, 42 Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


Tri-Cities Regional Airport entered service during the 1930s, marking the first regional connecting point for the Tri-Cities. Photo courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

Van Brocklin, Johnson City mayor, “and 99.85 percent have access to mobile work that once tied them to desks. One broadband. We lead the region in many of the region’s leading employers recent- areas from healthcare to education, ly told News & Neighbor, “We are able technology and commercial developto grow without some of the brick and ment. But we know increasingly that mortar investment. And we’re not alone. the jobs of today and tomorrow will be I’m amazed at the number of people I driven by high speed digital access.” meet on flights into and out of Tri-Cities Washington County Mayor Dan ElAirport who work from home. I’ll ask dridge echoed, “Connected certification what they do for a living, and they’ll tell communicates clearly to existing and me. Then I’ll ask where they work and potential new businesses that we underTele-Optics’ Jay Bentley strings fiber optic cable for the Johnson City Power Board. they name the subdivision they live in.” stand the global landscape of business “We have the infrastructure within today and commit to providing the tools Photo courtesy Johnson City Power Board our community that allows us to let our necessary to retain and grow jobs in our employees work from home. It’s bandcommunity.” width. We have yet to have an issue with And with the JCPB exploring highpeople within 60 miles.” speed wireless Internet as a tool for more Credit for “the bandwidth piece” goes efficient management and operation of in large part to the Johnson City Power the electrical system, a secondary benefit Board (JCPB), which has wired virtually may be to provide an affordable bandthe entire city with above ground fiber. width alternative to the community. Washington County recently received “From the foundation of the power certification from the “Connected system, economic development has been Community Engagement Program” for a primary goal,” JCPB Chairman Robert its digital communication status. The Thomas said. “Reliable, affordable eleccounty became the fourth “Connected” tric power has been a cornerstone of our certified community in Tennessee and national economy since the turn of the just the 54th in the nation. last century. At the same time, the Inter To achieve the designation, the com- net and broadband are quickly becoming munity had to reach or surpass benchas essential as the electricity that powers marks in broadband access, adoption it. We’re pleased that a solid action plan and use. is in place to continue moving our com “At least 98.95 percent of the citizens munity forward.” living in our community have access to Alert readers will recognize this stretch of U.S. Highway 23 looking north as today’s speeds of at least 50Mbps,” said Ralph INFRASTRUCTURE, Continued

Interstate 26 where it intersects with Interstate 81. Photo courtesy johnsonsdepot.com


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Longtime Chamber members Guy Wilson, Jr. left, and Guy Wilson, Sr. attend a Chamber event with Gary Mabrey, Chamber Executive Director.

Irma Hopson of South Central community hits a ground ball during a softball game against Faircloth Chevrolet. The City Commission established the Parks & Recreation Board in 1944 and gave it power to maintain and equip parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers.

“Pizazz” dance group entertained for Chamber’s Springfest events They performed with “Pizazz!”….. The Chamber of Commerce’s annual Springfest celebration brought out the best in Johnson City talent as the group, known as “Pizazz” started performing for the annual city celebration. Local singers and dancers participated in the community-wide variety show for about 15 years in a row to sellout crowds. Ann and Kristy Hodge choreographed their performances and Cookie McKinney directed the musical portion. Not all members’ names available. From the front, left to right, are: Kristy Hodge Pratt (lying down), Karen Love, Anne LIttleford, Lottie Ryans, Debbie Corpening, Doug King, Mark Smith, Caroline McQuary Darden, Teresa Jones Treadway. Second row, from the left: Sylvia Hensley, Don Squibb, Cookie McKinney, Debbie Pierson Thomas. Back row, from the left: Scott Pratt, Serena Crowder, Kevin Hodge, Debbie Gray, Fontaine Charles, Barry Coggins, Cheryl Rhea, Vince Dial, and Steve Schertel. Photos courtesy Chamber of Commerce

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


Cars jam Main Street during downtown’s heyday. Photos courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

Window shoppers make holiday wishes as a patron enters a downtown store.

Always important, retail evolves with times By Sarah Colson

First, Kmart put in a store where Target is now. Then came the Miracle Mall “I remember we would get nine cents in 1971. That mall, known now as The Mall and go down to see a Saturday movie, then at Johnson City, has stood the test of time go to Liggett’s Drug on the corner and get and enjoyed success during a time when a coke,” Skip Oldham, Washington County other malls in the region have suffered. commissioner and president of Oldham Tembra Aldridge, mall manager, said Travel in Johnson City, recalled when that’s largely due to a great relationship asked what it was like being in Johnson with city and county commissioners. City in the ‘50s and ‘60s. At that time, “We have great support from the city downtown Johnson City was the center and city officials and even the economic of shopping and entertainment for all of development council,” she said. “They’ve Washington County. just been really good about doing whatev Oldham would visit King’s Departer they need to do to help support the mall ment Store (known to locals now as the and take the mall to the next level.” home of Main Street Pizza, the Johnson Along with a resourceful leasing team, City Brewing Company and the WashAldridge said the city management has ington County Economic Development been careful to not let any other retail Council, among others) at Christmastime center that could jeopardize well-being when the store would run electric trains of the mall develop too close. around the fifth floor. “I just can’t reiterate enough how “That was the place to be,” he said wonderful it is to have the support At that point in the history of Johnson of the Chamber, to have the support City, if shoppers wanted something, they of Johnson City officials, to have the went downtown. Masengill’s Women’s support of the Washington County EcoClothing, J.C. Penney and Parks-Belk nomic Development Council,” Aldridge Department Store all made their homes added. “It’s so nice that we have that in the hopping retail center of downtown. relationship with the city.” The Majestic Theatre and Liberty Theatre While the launch of the mall was a were also hot spots for entertainment. game-changer for downtown and north “Things started moving north in the Johnson City, the next retail milestone mid ‘60s,” Oldham said. would affect all of Northeast Tennessee. 44

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

Johnson City was the first municipality in the region to pass liquor-by-thedrink. The measure allowing drinks to be served with meals passed by only six votes in 1981. At that time, Oldham’s Travel was where Toys ‘R’ Us is today. The only mainline restaurant in the area was Red Lobster right across the street. It was the first restaurant in Johnson City to offer liquor by the drink and the effects were huge. Diners began flocking to Johnson City from Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina as new restaurants opened in Johnson City. Within two years, the restaurant business in Johnson City was creating conditions conducive to other retail stores opening. “It made a tremendous difference in the community,” Oldham said. “I could see it from our office across the street. People would start lining up out in front of Red Lobster around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Then the (other) restaurants came into town and they just kept coming one after another, after another. And that has yet to cease.” With greater attention to Johnson City came greater issues with traffic

congestion. According to City Manager Pete Peterson, the need to de-congest pushed the development of State of Franklin Road. “If we built the road, the retail was going to follow,” Peterson said. “There really wasn’t a place that retail was really building because there wasn’t any way for people to get there.” Along with the building of State of Franklin, came the state’s first bike trail created in association with a road project. The trail still exists today, paralleling State of Franklin. “Once we got that done, the retail out there just exploded,” Peterson said. Following the retail came more subdivision development (Stone Ridge and Roundtree neighborhoods and others) and now the development is “spilling over the ridge line into the Boones Creek valley.” Peterson said the dynamic that has ultimately changed in downtown Johnson City is the $10-12 million investment the city’s made in dealing with flood control, streetscapes, pedestrian safety and lighting which has added up to more than $50 million worth of improvements altogether. This has caused property values in downtown to increase by 22 percent in the past two years and increased Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

The retail sector has taken full advantage of North State of Franklin Road’s development. Photo by Jeff Keeling

job growth and activity in general. “We’ve got a new retail, commercial node within the city and it’s the revitalization of the old downtown,” Peterson said. “It’s really dynamic that we’re redeveloping and repurchasing something that was where it all started and the world kind of passed it by. Now we’re coming and redeveloping it. Redeveloping the older sections of cities is probably one of the most cost-effective things you can do to promote economic productivity.” Today, Johnson Citians are experiencing a new wave of progress with restoration and renovation

going on in the once-retail-oriented downtown area. “The train station that’s going to be the Yee-Haw Brewing Co.,” Oldham said, “that is a magnificent piece of restoration. It is beautiful.” Along with the brewery, Oldham also thinks Founder’s Park, which used to be a tobacco warehouse, and Tupelo Honey, which was once a train station, hold exciting possibilities for the town. And while Oldham may not be able to catch a movie for nine cents or visit the trains in King’s Department store these days, he and the community he loves are enjoying the continuing retail renaissance.

“The Miracle Mall” was the big thing in the 1970s. Photo courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


An aerial view of Elizabethton’s rayon plants, which marked an early industrial recruiting coup for the Johnson City and Elizabethton chambers of commerce.

A sign behind Chamber leaders gathered in the 1950s illustrates the economic impact of manufacturing jobs. Photos courtesy Chamber of Commerce

From rayon to roller bearings, industry undergirds prosperity By Jeff Keeling

(a furniture maker), Sherman Concrete Pipe Co., National Venetian Blind Com The Chamber of Commerce didn’t pany, Accurate Machine Products Corp. waste any time before determining that and Tennessee Crafts. It was also during industrial development would be a key this period that the rayon plants in Elizaelement if Johnson City were to grow bethton reached their employment peak, and prosper. Natural resource extraction at over 6,000. alone wasn’t sufficient for prosperity, as During the 1940s, the Chamber was the 1890s bust following the discovery a key player in pushing for an agreement of iron ore in Minnesota’s Mesabi range with the Tennessee Valley Authority to had shown. Textile industry growth, bring affordable, abundant and reliable strong through the century’s first decade, electric power to the area. According had slowed. With the dream of the city to historian Tom Lee’s “The Tennesbecoming a steelmaking juggernaut see-Virginia Tri-Cities: Urbanization some three decades in the past, more in Appalachia 1900-1950: “The city’s diversity was needed in the economic plans centered on the recruitment of approach. new industry and the groups engaged in Enter the Chamber. Four years after producing a vision for the future of the lobbying the state’s transportation comcity included the municipal government, mittee for regional road improvements city civic organizations, the Johnson City An advertisement from a 1917 Chamber of Commerce publication promotes one of the – rail superiority alone wouldn’t be Chamber of Commerce, and the Johnenough to sustain growth – the Chamber city’s new milling plants. son City Planning Commission. These embarked in 1923 on a comprehensive groups concluded that cheap electricity, publicity program to bring new industry Elizabethton. The Elizabethton Chamber between Elizabethton and Johnson City along with other selling points, would be to Johnson City and surrounding areas. partnered with Johnson City to construct in 1927. The Chamber of Commerce integral to postwar economic growth.” To say the effort paid off would be an new homes opposite Glanzstoff to house had just entered its second decade and By the mid-1950s, the Chamber’s role understatement. Working regionally, the an influx of employees. already was making an indelible mark on in industrial development had hit perJohnson City and Elizabethton cham The chambers also made good on the area’s industrial economy. haps its fullest stride. The organization bers reeled in a big fish – Glanzstoff and one part of the deal to attract the plants More successes quickly followed. embraced what it labeled “The New AttiBemberg, two German-headquartered – which by the time of a strike in 1929 General Shale was founded in 1928. In tude” to encourage continued industrial textile manufacturers that built massive employed more than 3,400 people – the postwar years, a spate of new indus- growth. Practically, this grew to include facilities along the Watauga River in beginning construction of a new road tries opened, including Gordon’s Inc. significant collective investments by both 46

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

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private businesspeople and the public. Chamber newsletters from the period reflect the focus. The June 1957 edition of the “Johnson City Challenger” includes a page 1 headline that blares, “$111,000 RAISED FOR INDUSTRIAL EXPANSION.” The story details the efforts of 100 business people who had pledged the funds to build an industrial building, “on a lease-purchase basis for a Mid-Western manufacturer who will employ approximately 125 people with an annual payroll of some $400,000.” Another issue includes a reprint of a recruitment ad (see photo, far right) touting the manifold virtues of Johnson City and its strategic location in “the Valley of Decision for Industry.” The ad touts 500 acres of plant sites now available on the Clinchfield Railroad, as well as the city’s $2 million industrial bond program and its “complete industrial location services.” Just why would the city’s businesspeople support such significant efforts to recruit industry? To answer that question, one need look no further than the sign posted above a business meeting from the same era (and pictured on page 46). It was all about the math, and the economic impact of industrial jobs, something that

The General Shale Brick manufacturing operations in their early days. The company opened in 1928. Photo courtesy Chamber of Commerce

still holds true today. Whether one was a small business owner, the employee of a small business, a teacher, a doctor or a carpenter, more industry was generally seen as good for everyone. At the time of the photo in question, the math ran like this: One thousand new industrial jobs yielded 1,000 more households, nearly the same number of additional school children, and 3,590

more people. And that was just population. Wealth-wise, the same number of manufacturing jobs was reckoned to produce $2.29 million in additional bank deposits; 970 more registered passenger vehicles; an additional 650 non-manufacturing jobs; and $3.31 million in additional annual retail sales. SEE INDUSTRY, 48

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Celebrating 68 years as the region’s blood center. Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

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Workers at their craft in the mid-20th century at one of Johnson CIty’s many manufacturing operations. Photo courtesy Chamber of Commerce

Extraction of abundant timber from the mountains helped fuel Johnson City’s early development, spurring numerous hardwood industries. Photo courtesy johnsonsdepot.com

INDUSTRY, Continued Small wonder, then, that the private sector was willing to step in as it did when the city recruited the Midwestern manufacturer in 1957. That private commitment was combined with a

opment efforts have evolved through the latter decades of the 20th century and up to today, the Chamber of Commerce has remained a key to their success. Today, working hand-in-glove with local governments and economic development

public-sector industrial bond program, industrial park development and intense recruitment efforts that touted the region’s location “within 600 miles of over half the national market.” As such economic/industrial devel-

organizations, the Chamber promotes the importance of a well-educated, prepared workforce for industrial jobs that, like they did 50 years ago, still reverberate positively throughout the local economy. When nearly every industrial

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Work at IES in Gray involves high-tech equipment. Photo by Jeff Keeling

job requires some type of post-secondary training, the Chamber helps lead the way in advocating for the investments and commitment that send well-qualified workers to the A.O Smiths, Koyos and Mullican Floorings of today – a century after it played a critical role in landing the Bembergs and General Shales (still a going concern) of yesteryear.

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Convention & Visitors Bureau: The adventure continues

Young athletes like Emily Lapena – in town from California for the ASA National 10-and-under tournament in 2014 – typically bring an entourage with them, and money into the local economy. Photo by Jeff Keeling

It looks as smooth and effortless as a BMW bike gliding through a series of curves on a mountain road or a middle infield combo turning a double play in a softball game. But like those two examples – familiar ones given the area’s track record of drawing motorcycle rallies and sporting events – the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s smooth execution in bringing visitors and their dollars into the area is more complicated under the surface. “Our main role is to market and advertise all the wonderful assets that we as a community have to offer to visitors, to groups, to sporting events and to senior travelers,” says Brenda Whitson, who has been the CVB’s director since 1994. Whitson and her staff have helped Johnson City and Washington County carve several unmistakable niches in recent years. During the CVB’s “Start Your Adventure” theme period, which commenced in March, 2010, two of the bigger draws have been motorcycle events and athletic tournaments. National softball tournaments, college track meets and more have helped make the metro the recipient of many millions of sales tax dollars. The “heads in beds” that include participants, officials, coaches and relatives spend their money here, for sure. But Whitson wants them to leave with at least

the seed of an idea that they might come back – for a vacation or perhaps even to live some day. The same goes for the motorcyclists who have come in increasing numbers, especially since the CVB unveiled its award-winning Brenda Whitson “Southern Dozen” series of classic motorcycle rides along picturesque roads and highways. “The Southern Dozen continues to be a very successful marketing and promotion element for us,” Whitson says. “We continually have motorcycle groups that come even in groups of eight and 10 in here on a regular, ongoing basis.” The twin foundations for Johnson City’s success at attracting visitors, and getting them to return, are simple. They’re sort of like a good basic fielding ability in a ballplayer, or a powerful, reliable engine

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A photo from the Southern Dozen website promoting motorcycle tourism in the area.

in a bike. First, this is a friendly place -- really friendly. That’s just the way it is, and we’re used to it here, but to some it’s remarkable. That cultural level of hospitality and friendliness is paired with a natural landscape that can be awe-inducing even to people who have lived here their whole lives. From there, the CVB is charged to lead, innovate, and advocate for the

kinds of amenities and infrastructure that position the area to not only retain the special events and tourism impact that it currently has, but to gain more. That’s critical in an ever-evolving visitor market, Whitson says. “The excitement of what’s going on in our city from the downtown development to new trends that we’re seeing keeps us actively seeking new opportu-

nities,” Whitson says. “We’re getting ready to launch a new beer trail, if you will, with Kingsport and Bristol and all the local craft breweries. That is something exciting and new, and that’s a very hot trend in the marketplace right now.” The CVB won’t abandon its calling cards, Whitson says, but rather use the new trends and growing area amenities

to convince more folks to start their adventures in the Johnson City metro. “When we look at the potential for other sporting facilities enhancements, that gives us new opportunity. With the Tweetsie Trail and the completion of a segment going on into downtown, that’s going to open up a lot of outdoor activities that visitors are going to be able to enjoy.”

CONGRATULATIONS to the Chamber of Commerce on

100 Years


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Tourism driven by nature, history and pre-history By Scott Robertson

The willingness to protect that natural value of the region shown in The tourism industry in Johnson rerouting the highway to save the site is City, Jonesborough and Washington nothing new. Even a cursory examinaCounty is a quiet but remarkably strong tion of the region leaves one impressed force in the economy. Despite the abby the beauty found here. sence of casinos, theme parks and other Years before there was a Chamber, noisy attractions, the community draws outsiders knew the value of Johnson City around $225 million into the local econ- as a jumping off point for enjoying the omy through tourism. How? mountains, lakes, rivers and streams of Part of the answer you will have northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia already found in the work of the Conand western North Carolina. vention & Visitors Bureau (pp. 50-51). The “Sunny Tennessee” website But the rest of the answer comes in the chronicles John Wilder’s plan to bring form of things that were here long before tourists to Roan Mountain through those who promote tourism today: the Johnson City by rail in the late 1800s. region’s natural beauty and rich history. Wilder built a hotel on the mountain, One of the region’s top tourist atchristening it (the hotel) “Cloudland.” tractions even predates recorded history An advertisement for Cloudland itself in its origins. The East Tennessee touted it as “the highest human habitaState University and General Shale Natu- tion east of the Rocky Mountains.” Most ral History Museum and Visitors Center of the ad’s copy could have been written at the Gray Fossil Site allows visitors to today. “Come up out of the sultry plains travel back in time, to experience the to the land of the sky,” Wilder’s ad enticecosystem of an ancient world filled with es, offering “magnificent views above the tapirs, alligators, rhinos, camels, shovclouds where the rivers are born.” el-tusked elephants, saber-toothed cat, The current president of the Chamand even red pandas, all of which lived ber, Gary Mabrey smiles at the descripin Washington County long before man, tion of the region. “There’s some interdating back some 5 million years. esting phrases we’ve used in the visitor The site was discovered by happy industry,” he says. “‘Gateway to Appalaaccident in 2000, when road crews chia.’ ‘Convention City.’ ‘Redbud City.’ working on a highway-widening projAll those phrases, and now it’s ‘Start ect found what appeared to be a fossil Your Adventure in Johnson City.’” of some kind. Work on the project was The Chamber’s current tourism pitch halted and eventually the highway was sounds remarkably similar to Wilder’s: rerouted to protect the find. In 2007, the “This area is surrounded by snow-tipped Museum opened to the public. peaks in the winter, blooming azaleas

hining Star In Our Communit You’re A S y


The view of Happy Valley from the Tweetsie Trail’s Milligan Depot. Photo by Scott Robertson

and dogwoods in the spring, mild summers cooled by fresh mountain springs, and falls that set the hills ablaze with color. There is a reason people travel from all over the country to hike the Appalachian Trail. Hike Buffalo Mountain or Millstone Creek Falls, photograph nature’s splendor at one of the local parks,



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or take in the views from your very own front porch.” The most recent addition to the quality-of-life offerings is the Tweetsie Trail, a rails-to-trails project connecting Johnson City to Elizabethton for bicycle and foot traffic. The view down into Happy Valley is remarkable, no matter



to the Chamber of Commerce on 100 Years of Continued Success!


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From the Students, Faculty, & Staff at


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300 Sunset Drive Johnson City, TN (423) 915-2200 2681 Boones Creek Rd. Johnson City, TN (423) 915-2280

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The Community Congratulates The Chamber of Commerce on 100 Years of Service from the

Caring &Compassionate Staff of Snyder’s Memorial Gardens

The triceratops at the Gray Fossil Site. Photo by Jeff Derby

the season. Well-established historical sites, including the Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site and the Rocky Mount Museum offer glimpses back through the centuries. Rocky Mount is the oldest original territorial capitol still standing in the United States. Tipton Haynes includes habitations from both the Revolutionary War and Civil

(Back Row) Justin Booher: Marketing Director, Candy Pickett and John Crawford: Apprentice Funeral Directors (Seated) David E. Snyder: President & Funeral Director, Billy F. Snyder, “Papaw”

War eras on the same site. “There’s so many things that thread through the 100 years,” Mabrey says. “It’s a thicker thread, fiber thread, piece of rope – it’s amazing to me the weave that’s still there, and some of that weave will be stronger in the next 10 to 15 years. It’s amazing to me – everything changes, everything remains the same.”

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The Arts: A great story to tell By Scott Robertson Anyone active in commerce and economic development will tell you

Odds Bodkin

Courtesy International Storytelling Center

that quality of life is one of the greatest influences on which communities will attract high-paying jobs. And one of the most important factors in determining quality of life is a thriving arts community. The best arts communities are those that can call a particular style or genre their own. New Orleans has Dixieland jazz. The south side of Chicago has the blues. And our community is blessed to be home to two genres of performing arts: Storytelling and Mountain Music. These aren’t art forms that were transplanted here. They came into their own right here. Jonesborough is home to the International Storytelling Center and the National Storytelling Festival. Storytelling in this region didn’t begin as an art form. It was an organic part of the culture. Of course every American community had storytelling as part of its past. But with the advent of radio, then television, and finally the Internet and social media, the past is

where storytelling has been relegated in most communities today. Here, however, the value of the spoken word – its ability to inform, entertain and affect the listener – is still respected. The festival began in 1973, when Jimmy Neil Smith got a few friends, students and talented yarn-spinners together in the county courthouse parking lot. There were reportedly 60 or so people there that day, though you can probably find more than that who’ll tell you they were there (some folks tell more stories than others). Today the festival draws around 10,000 listeners each year, with a roster of most of the best-respected tellers alive. And while it will never leave its Southern Appalachian roots behind, the festival now includes tellers from cultures around the world, showing how different presentations can touch the same heartstrings, no matter where one is, or is from. Touching strings is the heart of Mountain Music. Whether you’re

The cover art for the Johnson City Sessions CD box set

hearing the fiddle, mandolin, banjo or guitar, when you hear the best country and bluegrass musicians today, you’re hearing a sound inspired by, and perhaps learned in, this community. Bristol, just a half-hour’s drive up the road on the Tennessee-Virginia border, rightly claims the title of birthplace of country music. Yet if Bristol is

Congratulations and Thanks for Your Hard Work to Make Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County a great place to live, work and play!

The World is Better When We Partner Together

Congrats! Thanks! Chamber of Commerce

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The Johnson City Symphony Orchestra plays under a tent for the annual patriotic-themed concert held at Winged Deer Park on Boone Lake Photo by Scott Robertson

the birthplace, Johnson City is the cradle. The Bristol Sessions of 1927 are regarded as the first commercial recordings of country music. But students of things old-timey can tell you of the Johnson City Sessions, a series of recordings made in 1928 by a rival record company. And like storytelling, Mountain Music has a rich

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legacy in the region. In 1982, a music professor at East Tennessee State University named Jack Tottle founded a four-year degree program in bluegrass, old-time and country music studies. The program remains the only one of its kind in the world. SEE ARTS, 57

A couple takes in on of the public art scupltures in Johnson City’s Founders Park. Photo by Jeff Keeling

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


Johnson City Office: 423.282.1885 Broad Street, Kingsport: 423.247.8107 Colonial Heights, Kingsport: 423.239.6112 Greeneville Office: 423.639.6781


Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

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Representing Johnson City, Jonesborough, Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington Counties

Building the Foundation for a Stronger Community Founded in 1969, JCAHBA is a non-profit trade association that represents and promotes responsible development of quality neighborhoods which encourages the American Dream of Home Ownership. Our members are in the home building, remodeling, multifamily construction, design, housing finance, building products and other aspects of residential and light commercial construction.

ARTS, Continued Alumni of the program include Kenny Chesney, who went on to become a four-time CMA Entertainer of the Year and Barry Bales, who won CMA Album of the Year honors for his work on the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and CMA Single of the Year honors for his work with Alison Krauss and Union Station on “When You Say Nothing At All.” Not all the music you’ll hear in Johnson City and Jonesborough is country, of course. East Tennessee State University’s music department may be best known nationally for its Mountain Music offerings, but the university puts on an annual jazz show hosting some of the biggest names in the genre, from Doc Severinsen to Eddie Shaughnessy to the U.S. Air Force’s “Airmen of Note.” Milligan College also boasts a music program with nationally respected faculty and graduates. In addition, Johnson City boasts its own symphony orchestra, which plays a

full season’s program each year, a civic chorale and a city concert band as well. East Tennessee State and Milligan also have active theater programs, and both Johnson City and Jonesborough have their own community theatre companies. The Johnson City Community Theater and the Jonesborough Repertory Theater both routinely sell out shows. The newest addition to the arts scene in Johnson City is a sculpture renaissance centered in Founders Park. At one time, the only widely recognized pieces of sculpture in the city were the “Lady of the Fountain,” which ornamented various locations downtown, including the interior of the old Mayne Williams Public Library for a time, and the statue of a World War I doughboy that marked the entrance to old Veterans Stadium. Today, however, a dozen or so examples of the form dot the landscape at the city’s newest park between downtown and the East Tennessee State University campus.

As an association, our goal is to be a trusted resource for the community and an advocate for the building industry. We provide educational programs to keep our members up-to-date on the latest building practices and construction techniques and we provide them the opportunity to network with the most knowledgeable and respected industry professionals in the country.

(423) 282-2561 www.JCAHBA.org 1001 N. Roan Street | Johnson City Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


Spectators enjoy the annual Jonesborough Days parade. Photos courtesy Chamber of Commerce

“I caught a big one at Legion St. pool Fish Out.”

Twenty-five graduates in a Chamber Leadership class.

The Chamber sponsors the annual Johnson City Christmas Parade for all to enjoy.

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The more we get together:

Intergovernmental cooperation key By Jeff Keeling

grand divisions in 1909. Such collaboration has continued Had, has and will have – those verbs through more than a century, even up to cover fairly well the Chamber of Commerce’s Johnson City’s 2016 budget, Mabrey says. approach to intergovernmental coopera “The intergovernmental piece, the advotion and the role it plays in that important cacy piece, the voice for business we provide element of insuring progress. – let’s face it, my bosses last year, said ‘we’re “As I look back, I see lots of dialogue for a property tax’ – we didn’t put a number. between the Chamber from 1915, and even My bosses this year said, ‘Go over there. before, when it was the Commercial Club, Don’t necessarily mention a number, but say etc., the dialogue that the Chamber had, once again, ‘the Chamber of Commerce is for the dialogue that the Chamber has, and the a tax increase.’ It’s an enabling budget.” dialogue that the Chamber will have with “We were for the enabling legislation for our governmental entities,” says CEO Gary hotel/motel investment. I think the govMabrey. ernmental piece, the dialogue that we enjoy “We enjoy a city-county-town-Chamber- on behalf of the community, on behalf of Council. We enjoy an interesting handful, business, to me, around here, is pretty good. that when that thing comes together and And it’s enabled us to do some things that if we hold our hand out, look what we are we were contentious, if we were controveraccomplishing.” sial, if we were provocative, as some of the Indeed, the Commercial Club, the 7,000 chambers in America I know are, I Chamber’s immediate predecessor, was wonder about how successful we could have heavily involved in what became East Ten- been. We probably would have been, but we nessee’s top offer as the state selected sites manage our feelings civilly, without being for Normal Schools in each of the state’s ‘above the fold.’”

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Points of Pride:

Past chairs and presidents look back on a century of accomplishment By Scott Robertson As an organization devoted to improving the fortunes of businesses in Washington County and its communities, the Chamber has always been led by volunteers from the business community. From Amzi Smith in 1915 to the present, members of the business community have always guided the Chamber in focusing its resources and efforts to best meet the challenges and opportunities of the day. On the occasion of the Chamber’s centennial, several former chairs and presidents spoke with the Chamber’s media partners about the accomplishments of the Chamber during their respective years in charge (the volunteer leader of the Chamber was referred to as the president until the early 2000s,

when a shift in organization caused that position to be known as chairman of the board). Dr. Richard Manahan, who was president in 1990 when the Chamber celebrated its 75th anniversary, remembers that celebration fondly. “The whole 75th anniversary celebration was a major emphasis, particularly when Gerald Ford came here to be at our annual dinner and make a presentation. At that time, we made him an honorary member of the chamber. We also made Congressman James Quillen an honorary member. Country music star Reba McIntyre, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock, then-United States Senator Al Gore Jr., and Governor Ned Ray McWherter were all involved in the chamber.” Manahan points to a half dozen two dollar bills signed at the time

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Past chairs and presidents of the Chamber of Commerce Serving Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County: Back row (L-R): Charles Steagall, Guy Wilson, Richard Manahan, Steve Conerly, Rick Storey, Vince Hickam, Chuck Mason, Tom Seaton, Al Fatheree. Front row (L-R): Melissa Steagall-Jones, Carol Trahan, Gary Mabrey (current president), Lottie Ryans, Jeff Jones (current chair).

by all the aforementioned individuals except McWherter. “The governor said he would prefer not to deface American currency with his signature,” Manahan remembers.

The 75th anniversary was a jumping-off point for many of the accomplishments of the chamber over the last SEE POINTS OF PRIDE, 62

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quarter century, Manahan says. “The MedTech corridor is a great example. The growth of East Tennessee State University has been just tremendous. I remember when I first came to Johnson City to interview. I couldn’t figure out how to get to the university. That was before State of Franklin Road and all that development and everything that’s taken place along that corridor. It’s just been so many different things related to business, government and education working together.” Even past chairs who are no longer part of the community remember their time as chair with pride. Robert White, who chaired the Chamber in 2010 when he was with the Johnson City Power Board, is now the general manager of the Russellville, Kentucky Electric Plant Board. “I lived in Johnson City for 28 years. It was home. And to this day, one of the great honors of my life was the day when I got the call asking me to consider taking that responsibility,” White says. “That was during the time when we were starting to recover from the economic downturn of 2008. The theme of my year was, ‘Energize your business in the community and beyond.’ We had so many businesses who had hung in there and continued to serve the community, from entrepreneurs and small businesses to corporations. We wanted to encourage them to continue staying the course, knowing there would eventually be long-term returns. It was an exciting time.” Being chair of the Chamber has always meant having to make time to learn the ins and outs of several areas of expertise from economic development to leadership skill training to education to government relations. Which of those focuses took the lion’s share of the chair’s time depended on the community’s circumstances at the time and the skills of the chair. For Steve Conerly, who held the office in 1985, the most significant point of pride was the work he did in leadership development. “One of the things I personally focused on was trying to get some new, younger people into the Committees on the Chamber. I asked one young fellow to join a committee in 62

1985, his only response was, ‘I can’t do that.’ I just said, ‘Yes, you can.’ He did.” That young fellow was Bill Breeding, who would become chair in 1988. For Carol Trahan (2007) and Chuck Mason Jr. (2009), working on economic development through tourism was a major focus. Both were part of the work that led to the creation of the Southern Dozen campaign to bring motorcyclists into the community. “We had a group of bikers come in and I got to welcome them,” Trahan remembers. “There were motorbikes everywhere. They were such lovely people.” While Trahan got to welcome one group of motorcyclists to the region, Mason had many such opportunities. “We ended up the year with over 10,000 motorcyclists in the area in 2009 through the work of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. I was going through my book last night, and I quit counting when I reached 100 events that I attended that year.” Banker Rick Storey, who chaired the Chamber in 2000, says he was pleased with the Chamber’s work in connecting government with the local business

community. “We enjoyed having Senator Bill Frist come to the Millennium Centre to discuss technology and how it was likely to impact our region. Later on we had Senator Fred Thompson speak to us about how the changes happening in the world politically and economically would affect us here in the Tri-Cities.” Likewise, Guy Wilson, who chaired the Chamber three years later, remembers government relations as a key, though in a different context. “That was the first year the United States Chamber of Commerce got involved in having a small business summit. We put a good group together. We had probably a dozen people go to Washington. I believe we’ve done that every year since.” Wilson also was instrumental in one of the most important education initiatives in which the Chamber has ever been involved: the creation of the Gatton School of Pharmacy at ETSU. “We were really starting to plan that back in those days. Gary Mabrey, Larry Calhoun and I were on a steering committee talking with the university trying to plant that idea. It took hold and we opened the College of Pharma-

cy in 2005.” 2014 Chair Lottie Ryans recalls having had opportunities to focus on virtually every area of the job. “Well, it was a very exciting year for the community. The Tweetsie Trail was opened and the Chamber was a big part of that. NN Inc., announced it would be expanding its headquarters here. We also revamped and reintroduced a young professionals group, so it was very exciting to see the up and coming leaders in the community and all the things they were doing.” White is quick to point out that the Chamber has always been active in the community, partly because of the passions and areas of expertise of the chairs, but also in large part because of the energetic, knowledgeable staff that does the day to day work. “The Chamber exemplifies the spirit of the community, and when you think of that in Johnson City, you think about Gary Mabrey and the amazing staff at the Chamber. They work so hard to make Washington County successful. They make a chair’s life easy.”


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Chamber CEO and Chairman reflect, look ahead By Jeff Keeling In late June, a few weeks before the Chamber of Commerce’s official 100th anniversary date, News & Neighbor sat down to talk with CEO Gary Mabrey and 2015 Board Chair Jeff Jones. The discussion revolved around all things Chamber – its past, present and future, the qualities that endure and the adaptation to changing times. Despite the organization’s broad scope, Mabrey summed things up pretty well late in the conversation when he said this: “Member or non-member, our effort is to improve the community, the quality of life, the standard of living – to be a place for people to live, work, play, retire, recreate and bring your business here. Because you can do business in Johnson City. It’s that simple.” What hasn’t changed: Relationships, small business key A century ago, the men who founded the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce

Gary Mabrey, CEO

Jeff Jones, Board Chair

had to get a couple of basic elements right. First, they had to get relationships right. They had to interact civilly and respectfully with their fellow businessmen – even when their interests didn’t always

align precisely – in order to reach consensus on important issues. Moving Johnson City forward as the Roaring Twenties approached required the same kind of relationship skills as it did in the post-

Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce

O 1O

World War II years. Working with local, state and federal government to help get the city’s needs addressed took the same approach when a highway needed to be improved in the 1940s as it takes today when the information economy calls for a ramp up in broadband speeds. “To me the very basic is relationships,” Mabrey said. “We don’t necessarily cause it to happen, but a word in our mission statement is catalyst. Another word is facilitator. Another word is convener. We may convene a group of folks on any topic. We just get people in a room and we sit back and we say, ‘Go.’ It’s amazing what results have come just from our being able, as a Chamber, because of our reputations and results, to convene meetings and get further results.” The early Chamber of Commerce also had to decide what it was going to be. And since Johnson City was a town of small businesses, founded by SEE LOOK AHEAD, 64

"Here is to 100 more years of successful community partnerships!"


Thank you for 100 years of partnership for progress City of Johnson City

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Amber Floyd Lee, Esq. Sarah E. Larkin, Esq. Lee Law Group, PLLC 605 E. Unaka Avenue Johnson City, TN 37601 (423) 631-0326 www.leegrouplaw.com Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


saying, ‘I’d like to have my own business. It’s going to be cupcakes.’”

the very basics is relationships. But faceto-face cannot go away. You still must an entrepreneurial small businessman, have those reasons to bring men and the Chamber was going to have a major What has changed women together for purposes that make focus on small business. The men and In 1915, the telephone had only sense to them and get a good result.” women who comprise today’s Chamber been in widespread use for a couple of A large majority of Jones’s own workmembership are predominately small decades. When the Chamber celebrated force is comprised of people who spend businesspeople and entrepreneurs, too. its 75th anniversary in 1990, what’s now most of their days wearing headsets and “It’s an opportunity for all these busi- called “POTS” (Plain Old Telephone sitting at computer screens. He realizes nesses, regardless of size, it’s the diversi- Service) still dominated non-face-toas well as anyone that for all its advanty of all the different businesses and it’s face communication. Fax machines tages, technology must be balanced with kind of that focal point for everybody to were indispensible tools, not glorified relationships. “You’ve got to maintain get together and say, ‘here’s what we all paperweights. During the Mabrey-Jones the culture,” he said. “You’re just comneed,’” Jones said. interview, any of the three people in municating in a different way. Jones may oversee more than 1,500 the room could have taken two minutes “How do we stay relevant and make employees at Citi’s Gray location, but his on his cell phone and transmitted an sure we maintain that connection as business and other major employers are important message – or a trivial one – to businesses go from brick and mortar to the exceptions, Mabrey said. thousands of people. That message could work at home?” Jones asked rhetorically. “I don’t want to understate the have included video, photos, links to “We’re going to continue to provide that importance of the small businessperson, other information and more. support that the Chamber’s provided for because we are predominately a small Said Mabrey: “The blend between the past 100 years. It’s just going to be in business Chamber of Commerce whose face to face versus virtual versus e-connew fashions.” members employ three, five, seven, 10. tact versus social versus Twitter – how Those vast changes in communica “And every small businessperson is does the Chamber maximize this evotion styles represent part of a global shift really an entrepreneur. We’ve been an lutionary change in our demographic? in the way business is conducted in the entrepreneurial Chamber for a long time. How do we blend, regardless of gender, information age. To support the local I missed a ribbon cutting this morning age, whatever, an organization that is economy as it operates within a global for Cakes in a Cup. So that’s five or six responsive, that is far-sighted, that is economy, the Chamber has to be adaptpeople. They’re taking a risk. They’re dealing with the very basics – and to me able – particularly with respect to one of LOOK AHEAD, Continued

Gary Mabrey

its core functions. “A major theme for the last 50 years has been, ‘economic development is education, and education is economic development,’” Mabrey said. The key, he added, is balance. Chamber of Commerce programs will continue to advocate strongly for the


to the Chamber on its 100th anniversary and best wishes for the next 100 years!

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Jeff Jones

highest possible academic quality and standards in the K-12 schools (see story on pages 24-26), but that is nothing new. In the area of workforce readiness and post-secondary opportunities, the focus will be on breadth of options, and even more, Jones said, on tailoring those options to the employers’ needs.

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“Probably the best current example is Bell Helicopter and Northeast State,” Jones said. “You’ve got two great institutions, they see what the need’s going to be, so they’re partnering together to develop that ahead of the need. They’re changing what they’re educating people on because they know there’s a global need.” As it advocates for education, so too does the Chamber advocate for adequate infrastructure. Where that may have been more about roads, hydroelectric power and an airport in the mid and late 20th century, the focus has broadened today. Those things are still important (see pages 40-42), but so is an element that few envisioned even a quarter century ago – broadband speed and capacity. “It’s going to be key for the local area to stay up to speed on whatever that emerging technology is,” Jones said. Advocacy in that realm has paid dividends. Citi is just one of many businesses that can’t live without adequate “pipe,” primarily in the way of fiber optic cable. “There are companies here that, when they started and grew, a key element was technology capacity,” Jones

continued. “Several decades ago, if they had not been able to support and run the phone lines that were needed, and eventually the data lines that were needed, the kind of back office and support industries that are such an important component of our economy today wouldn’t be here.” When it comes to technology infrastructure, though, the phrase “if you’re not moving ahead, you’re falling behind” couldn’t be more apt. The week of News & Neighbor’s interview with Mabrey and Jones, Washington County became the fourth certified “Connected Community” in Tennessee and the 54th in the nation (see more on pages 40-42). It released a “Technology Action Plan” to help continue building on its digital foundation – which includes nearly 90 percent of citizens living in the community having access to broadband speeds of at least 50 megabytes per second. That’s great, but it’s not enough, Mabrey said. “We must point with pride to the role of a lot of folks. The library, the role of (Johnson City Public Library Director) Bob Swanay, the role of the university … the role of Century Link, the role of our

city – but that plan says, ‘y’all are pretty good. You didn’t score a perfect score. You’re just 12 points short of perfect.’ “So our gameplan in the next two to four to six years is to take those eight areas where we’re not quite there yet and do them, and do them rather quickly.” Back to the future Technology may not move backward, but in at least one other way, the Chamber of Commerce has seen the old become new again – and had a hand in it. As the Chamber neared its 75th anniversary, Johnson City wrestled with the near-universal American problem of a struggling downtown. What had once been the core of retail and business activity had become a district nearly devoid of commercial activity. Change had to come if at all possible. The Chamber, Mabrey said, is “a facilitator. We may convene a group of folks on any topic.” With the topic downtown’s future, a task force was convened in the late 1980s. “It spent one year – we have a document – and from that year-long SEE LOOK AHEAD, 66

Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


LOOK AHEAD, Continued

The future: Maintaining effort, the statute was enacted and the connections, adapting to change Johnson City Development Authority “The first part of our future is to was put in place. So track that from the maintain a connection with our mem‘90s to the present.” bers,” Mabrey said. Maintaining that Getting results took time and effort, connection, he added, has to include a but rapid growth downtown in recent willingness to step back frequently and years seems to have borne out the wisanalyze how the organization is going dom of the decision. about its business. Topics up for discus “Look at what’s happened in five sion can be as benign as frequency of years in downtown,” Mabrey said. meetings and the size of the board to a “Look at what’s happened in two years revisiting of the mission statement. in downtown. Look at what’s going to “Then we back away and ask ourhappen in three years in downtown...We selves, what new collaborations do we don’t want to walk around in a delusion need to forge, what current collaboraof grandeur saying, ‘the Chamber did tions do we need to refortify, and then, this.’ But in some respects, the Chamwhat are we doing that maybe our member has had a direct or indirect impact bers think we shouldn’t do? Like any through our members, through our business, to respond to business, we’ve collaborations, through our cohorts, got to be as evolutionary and transforthrough those groups that have caused mational as we’re asking our members some things to happen. But we certainly to be.” are not sitting here saying, ‘The Chamber In recent years, that has included did it.’ We’re simply saying, ‘It’s a pretty the creation of a non-profit council to go good organization, been around for 100 along with longstanding ones focused years and it’s had some very successful on tourism, education and workforce involvements locally and in the region development. and in other parts of this country.” “That was put in place to focus on

the 50 or so 501(c)3 category small businesses, to give them a chance,” Mabrey said. “Because we learned – Lester (United Way CEO Lattany) and his (Jones’s) company learned, if you took the non-profits out of the equation, ‘how do we take care of adults, how do we take care of our young men and women, how do we deal with those things?’ So that non-profit council that we instituted a few years ago, we at least have a forum, they can sit around the table, and we’re recognizing that.” When it’s working as it should, Jones said, the Chamber is a major benefit even for companies as large as his. “That’s where I learn about things that can benefit my company or my employees. That’s where I get what’s coming up for ETSU, whether it’s football or arts or entertainment. That’s where I learn about, here’s what’s going on at Northeast State, the educational change and what we were referencing with the new classes with Bell. “It allows me to come back (to Citi) and say, ‘hey, here’s what’s going on in the community and by the way, here’s tuition reimbursement, here’s things

we can work together on to improve the community – that’s improving my business.” The Chamber’s membership, and leadership also has become much more inclusive since the days when white males dominated, Mabrey said. “In the 1917 publication we did it said, ‘Amzi Smith The First and a few men.’ Today, we’re much more receptive, much more welcoming than we were maybe in the ‘50s. That’s no disrespect, but it’s one century versus another century. This word that I’ve used, I think we were very xenophobic in the earlier part of this 100 years. “What a difference has been made since Ruth Ellis was our first president of the board (in 1983). Look in the late ‘80s, ‘90s the number of women. We had back-to-back women chairs – Carol (Trahan) then Melissa (Steagall-Jones). Men of color. To me the beauty of the organization is, ‘y’all come. Sit around the table. We’ll always have a seat. We can always sit you in a seat. Or if we have a standing room only meeting, come on. It’s alright. There’s room.’”

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015


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Centennial - 100 Years of Success | July 2015

Published by The Johnson City News & Neighbor

Profile for The Business Journal of Tri-Cities TN/VA

Johnson City Chamber of Commerce Centennial issue  

This 68-page magazine traces the history of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce and the community's related industries from 1915 through to...

Johnson City Chamber of Commerce Centennial issue  

This 68-page magazine traces the history of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce and the community's related industries from 1915 through to...