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Kingsport celebrates business successes at chamber dinner

SHARON CASKEY HAYES • Feb 2, 2007 at 10:15 AM

KINGSPORT - More than 1,200 people gathered Friday night to celebrate the successes of Kingsport's business community during the 60th Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner.

Held at the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center, the event drew folks from throughout the region to enjoy an evening of food, fellowship and entertainment by Broadway stars Raymond Saar and Diane Ketchie and the Symphony of the Mountains Orchestra.

Brad Hoover, 2006 chamber president and senior vice president for Citizens Bank, highlighted the achievements of the community in the past year, including the 10th anniversary of MeadowView, which posted a record $10 million in sales in 2006 and was ranked number one among all Marriott properties worldwide in guest satisfaction.

He cited the new East Stone Commons, a 275,000-square-foot shopping complex at the corner of Eastman Road and Stone Drive, as well as the proposed Kingsport Pavilion, a project that will include more than 30 new stores and restaurants on East Stone Drive.

Hoover noted the revitalization of the old State Theatre in downtown Kingsport, and the summer concert series that has drawn folks from throughout the region to the heart of the city.

He cited the $11 million Hope VI grant, which will result in the redevelopment of the Riverview community.

He said the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau contributed $74,000 to area schools during 2006, and US Airways Magazine recognized the city with a community profile in its October issue.

Hoover said hundreds of families are deciding to relocate to Kingsport to enjoy the region's quality of life and low cost of living.

He cited the city's accomplishments and opportunities using a wrestling analogy.

"Make no mistake, the match is not over, and we have some wrestling ahead of us," he said. "We have a third period, and it is up to the community to make sure we continue to score and win."

Hoover then handed the chamber gavel over to incoming President Tony Hewitt, commercial development and community relations director at BAE Systems.

Hewitt, originally from Sussex, England, moved to Kingsport in 1998 with British Aerospace and has been involved with the community ever since.

He said Kingsport is approaching its 100th anniversary, and compared with ancient cities in Europe and in other parts of the globe, Kingsport is "just a baby."

"As a city, we are still pretty impressionable, and we need to take care that we grow up to become a strong, healthy and well-adjusted metropolis," Hewitt said.

He said that 20 years ago, the chamber's main goal was to "make the cash registers jingle" by creating new jobs, increasing chamber members, improving the economy through promotion and development of tourism, and improving work force education.

Today, he said, the chamber's goals remain the same - "to make the cash registers ring."

More specifically, he said the chamber in 2007 plans to continue work on the "Move to Kingsport" promotion to recruit more people and businesses to the city; to recruit and retain more chamber members; to expand the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau involvement in sports marketing; and to develop a higher education and lifelong learning center in Kingsport to keep the local work force competitive in the global economy.

He noted that today's chamber focus isn't much different from the focus years ago.

"Building a healthy community isn't work that is ever fully complete," he said. "Building a community is a lifelong proposition. And in Kingsport, we've really just begun."

As the 61st chamber president, Hewitt vowed to "make my best effort to improve the quality of life and opportunity for all of our citizens."

"And I'm proud to call this home," Hewitt said.

The chamber recognized longtime Kingsport resident, business executive and government leader Ken Maness with the Kingsport Chamber Lifetime Member Award, which honors an individual for a lifetime of service to the community.

Maness, a current Kingsport alderman, former Southeast president of Citadel Communications Corp., and former president and CEO of the Bloomington Broadcasting Corp., is the 16th recipient of the Lifetime Member Award.

The Kingsport event has grown to become the largest chamber dinner in the nation. The event has more than 70 corporate sponsors, including Eastman Chemical Co. as title sponsor; WJHL News Channel 11 as host sponsor; Holston Valley Medical Center as entertainment sponsor; Eastman Credit Union as concert hall and stage sponsor; and Oak Hill Memorial Park, Funerals and Cremations as reception sponsor.

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