County businesses have unique chance to benefit from opening of Tubman visitors center
CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester Chamber leaders reflected on a successful 2016 and looked forward to 2017 as a year of opportunity on Thursday night.
That night, the chamber hosted its 71st annual membership meeting and dinner at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina. County, city and town leaders, including County Council President Ricky Travers, County Manager Jeremy Goldman, Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley, members of the city council, and representatives from public schools, mingled with people from a variety of county businesses. Chesapeake College was represented as was the State of Maryland by members of the Shore Delegation and others.
The Hyatt’s meeting and event center was packed. Chamber Executive Director Bill Christopher was emcee for the night. In welcoming the crowd, he said as of Monday evening, Jan. 23, 145 people had registered for the dinner. By Thursday, there were more than 250 registrants and there were only a few empty seats.
After a social hour and dinner, Mr. Christopher and Jeff Hubbard, chamber president, recognized some chamber members with awards, and honored outgoing directors. Mr. Hubbard reflected on 2016, discussed 2017 initiatives, and introduced new board members and the chamber’s executive leadership.
Gerry Boyle, chamber board member, spoke about the chamber foundation scholarship fund. Guest speakers from the Maryland Office of Tourism shared news about the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, and the visitors center set to open to the public March 11 at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The byway and opening of the center present a unique opportunity to Dorchester County businesses.
2016 and 2017
Reflecting on 2016, Mr. Hubbard said, “This board was amazing. It was one of the hardest-working group of people I’ve ever been associated with. … We had a great year. We had great events.”
Mr. Hubbard said Mr. Christopher created a monthly report card for 2016 that reflected various chamber goals. With guidance from the report card, the chamber board was able to reach the majority of its goals in 2016. The chamber hosts business luncheons and breakfasts, and in 2016, the average attendance for these events was 35 guests.
“What we’re trying to do is give you quality time,” Mr. Hubbard said of chamber events.
Signature events the chamber is planning for 2017 include Celebrate Dorchester on June 6, and a golf tournament Sept. 29 at the Hyatt.
Mr. Hubbard said a major goal of the chamber is to increase membership, and the best way to attract new members is from referrals from current members.
“We wanted to earn the trust of our existing members before we went out looking for new members,” Mr. Hubbard said, “and we worked really hard last year to do that.”
According to Mr. Hubbard, in 2016, the Dorchester Chamber reviewed about 100 pieces of legislation. The chamber offered its position on roughly six to 12 bills.
“One of the biggest things that we can do for our members is advocate,” Mr. Hubbard said.
The chamber president said business opportunities are growing in the county, including the opening of the Tubman visitors center.
“If I could say anything about Dorchester County this year, I think the opportunities are tremendous,” Mr. Hubbard said. “We’re going to have people from all over the world coming to Dorchester County and we want to give them a real Dorchester County welcome that makes them want to come back.”
Chamber leaders recognized
Mr. Christopher and Mr. Hubbard honored a number of chamber members for their dedication. The Rev. George Ames was recognized for his commitment to the chamber and the community as a chamber ambassador. Keith Conkle, a chamber ambassador with Comcast Spotlight, and Cambridge City Councilman Dave Cannon, of the Dorchester Banner, were saluted as chamber networking all stars.
Three new chamber board members were introduced: Jermaine Anderson of Liv Again and the ArtBar, Scott Dorsey of RAMS, and Eddie James of Koski Enterprises. The chamber also recognized outgoing board members Kelly Hurley of Interstate Container, and Dr. Paul Brant of Cambridge Family Eye Care.
As a surprise at the end of the evening, State Sen. Addie Eckardt and Delegate Johnny Mautz honored Mr. Christopher for his leadership. Mr. Christopher received a standing ovation as he was honored.
Mr. Boyle, president of the chamber foundation, spoke briefly about the chamber scholarship fund.
“Last year (2016), the board of directors decided to revitalize the scholarship foundation that had been dormant for several years,” Mr. Boyle said. “We understood how expensive further education is these days and the foundation committee will do whatever we can to help our local students to reach their highest goals.”
The foundation committee will award at least three $1,000 scholarships in 2017.
Mr. Boyle said it is important to the chamber to direct resources to students that will seek employment in Dorchester County when they graduate from college or get a certification. To qualify, the parent or guardian of an applicant must be a Dorchester Chamber member or work for a company that is a chamber member. Anyone who meets these qualifications between the ages of 17 and 21 will be considered. Post-graduate students are welcome to apply. Applications are due by Feb. 24.
Guest speakers from the Maryland Office of Tourism offered an update on the byway and new visitors center. Liz Fitzsimmons, managing director of the Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts, and Heather Ersts, partnership and outreach manager for the Office of Tourism Development, both encouraged Dorchester businesses to get involved.
According to Ms. Fitzsimmons, tourism is the 10th largest private sector employer in Maryland. In 2015, visitors to the state spent $16.8 billion on travel. Without this spending, each state household would have to spend $1,040 in taxes to replace revenue generated by travelers.
“It is only in 44 short days that we will be opening the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center. This has been the work of nearly a generation of folks passionate in wanting to honor this great American icon and tell her story,” Ms. Fitzsimmons said. “There’s going to be folks that are coming. They’re going to be looking for places to go. They’re going to be looking for your recommendations.”
The visitors center and byway will draw people from the U.S. and across the world.
For that reason and others, Ms. Ersts announced, the tourism office has established a Certified Host Byway Business program. By completing a simple training program, businesses can display a decal or poster at their locations. Participating businesses will also receive Tubman byway fast-fact sheets, “Ask me about” HTURR buttons, and more materials to promote the byway and local businesses. Participating businesses will also be promoted on the Tubman Byway website and receive other support from the Office of Tourism.
“We’re here to help you help your businesses and expand on these economic opportunities that will be at your doorsteps,” Ms. Ersts said. “This area has an incredible array of opportunities for travelers. … This is a huge opportunity for you guys. Not everyone has an American icon sitting in their backyard.”
For more information on the Tubman byway, visitors center, or the training program, contact Ms. Ersts at 410-767-6974 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Amanda Fendstermaker, of Dorchester County Tourism, at 410-228-1000 or email@example.com.
Bob Zimberoff is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.