The population of Johnson City increased because of the railroad and being a destination for commerce and employment. Throughout the past century and a half, we have transitioned from a farming to industrial and manufacturing economy, which created the need for an organization such as the Chamber to unite the business community, provide opportunities and resources, networking, credibility, recruitment, and advocacy for its stakeholders and community.
As we focus on the history of the Johnson City Chamber, the leaders of our organization have been the champions that encouraged and led this community to grow into the place we proudly call home. This region has grown from the vision and hard work of many of our business leaders, beginning with our first Chamber Chair Amzi Smith to our current chair Neil Poland with Mullican Flooring.
Many institutions and projects that were championed by our business leaders are still a part of our city today. In 1924, the Hotel John Sevier was constructed and funded by subscriptions collected by the Chamber. We also worked closely with Elizabethton to secure the American Bemberg Plant in 1926. Throughout the middle of the century, the Chamber participated in the founding of General Shale, the opening of Tri-Cities Regional Airport, and the first broadcast at WJHL.
Johnson City business leaders were the key supporters for the East Tennessee Normal School, which formed four years before the Chamber of Commerce. We now recognize this institution as East Tennessee State University, which is the fourth-largest university in Tennessee. The growth of ETSU has aligned with the support of the Chamber and community to develop the Quillen College of Medicine and the Gatton College of Pharmacy.
Industrial recruitment for Washington County was directed by the Chamber with the forming of the JC Industrial Park Corporation to purchase and recruit new industries to the county. We were home to Harris Tarkett Flooring, Gordon’s Inc, Sherman Concrete Company, Accurate Machine Products, and many other manufacturers. The Model Mill Company, located on West Walnut Street, produced Red Band Flour, and once renovated, will become the new home for the Chamber in 2020.
We need to acknowledge the many men and women who pioneered the growth of Johnson City from the railroad to becoming a leading destination for Rural Healthcare Services and Innovation. The Chamber of Commerce has been fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers and business leaders throughout the century that were on the frontlines for many of our city’s accomplishments. We were fortunate to have the leadership of Gary Mabrey as our president and CEO over the past three decades that provided the strong foundation and positioned the Chamber and our community for the growth we are experiencing today.
As we transition into a new decade, the Johnson City Chamber is excited about our move to the Model Mill. Not only will our organization have a home representative of the quality of our services, but will also enhance our ability to position our community for growth. We hope to recruit new organizations and people to the region and plan to tell our story at the Model Mill location overlooking downtown Johnson City. In addition to our traditional Chamber services, we plan to offer more services and direction for entrepreneurs and business development in the region.
The Chamber’s Convention & Visitors Bureau invites visitors to our community through conventions, sporting, and special events. The impact from tourism brings a significant amount of revenue into our economy which helps to sustain growth and lower the tax base for all citizens. Tourism is also a front door for recruiting people and talent to our region, whether it’s young professionals appreciating our many outdoor amenities, or retirees that enjoy the value of Johnson City’s quality of life.
At this Sesquicentennial, we celebrate our history and the leaders that provided the benefits and opportunities we enjoy today and look optimistically to the future of Johnson City growing healthier and stronger.
Bob Cantler is president and CEO of The Chamber of Commerce serving Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County.