UPDATED: Bob Cantler to serve as next president and CEO of Johnson City chamber

David Floyd • Updated May 15, 2019 at 6:32 PM


That’s how Johnson City businessman Bob Cantler described how it feels to succeed Gary Mabrey as the president and CEO of the Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber made the announcement in a press release on Tuesday.

“It’s kind of like following a successful football coach,” Cantler said of Mabrey, who has led the organization for about 31 years. “You’re always nervous because you want to perform as well as they did.”

But Mabrey has plenty of faith in Cantler. “He loves this place, he loves this region,” he told attendees at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday morning. “You guys are getting a twofer because he has a wonderful wife who equally loves this region, so ladies and gentleman, let me assure you the vision for here is amazing.”

Cantler, who is the husband of Dianna Cantler, downtown development director for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, grew up in the area and graduated from East Tennessee State University before living in Atlanta and Nashville.

He returned in 2001 and worked as the director of sales and marketing at the Meadowview Marriot Resort in Kingsport. He’s also previously served as the vice president and general manager of the General Morgan Inn in Greeneville and the corporate sales manager at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville.

He now operates a freelance consulting business called Internity Development and is handling the financing and tax credit arrangements for the Model Mill.

“The Chamber needs to be pro-community, pro-business and pro-growth,” he said. “I think pro-growth is what we need to look at right now. What can we do to create an ecosystem that will help our community sustain and grow?”

Mabrey said an eight-member search committee conducted a regional search and vetted about 20 to 30 applications from candidates across the region and county. He said the committee voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend Cantler for the role.

Cantler’s first day will be July 1, Mabrey said. “We’ll have some incidental conversations between now and then,” he said. “I’ll be framing out some things to help him with his transition. After he’s onboard, I’ll be around strategically to be as helpful as I can.”

In a brief speech to the Chamber on Wednesday, Cantler highlighted several projects going on around Johnson City that point to the growth of the region: ETSU is in the middle of performing millions of dollars worth of capital projects, community leaders are revitalizing the 100-year-old Model Mill, which will eventually serve as the Chamber’s headquarters, and utility company BrightRidge is preparing to launch a 10-gigabit internet service in Johnson City.

“For the next three months, four months, we’re going to have a lot of conversations,” Cantler said. “And from those conversations we’re going to create a strategic plan, and that strategic plan is going to be bold and it’s going to be big.”

Mabrey said he’ll continue to play an active role in the community once he steps down from this post. “The rumors of my retirement are exaggerated,” he said. “I’m leaving this position, but I have some business things in mind.”