The leadership of the Cashiers Area Chamber met on January 19th for its annual strategic planning session. Directors established high priority issues for Chamber focus in 2017 including pedestrian mobility and safety, workforce development (recruitment, training and retention), infrastructure expansion (particularly broadband connectivity) and community development.

Participants were: Justin Allman of FireMoss Pottery, Tony Austin of Lake Toxaway Company, Chris Conner of Cullasaja Club, Stephanie Edwards of the Chamber, Malice Grant of Sounds Essential, Mary Lanning of Hampton Inn & Suites, Eli Ramirez of the Chamber, Justin Souma of Benjamin F. Edwards, Rick Stargel of Sapphire Valley Development, Ken Taft of Landmark Realty Group, Glenn Ubertino of Zoller Hardware, Directors unable to attend but serving on the Chamber’s 2017 board include: Ken Fernandez of Old Cashiers Realty, Debby Hattler of Hattler Properties (who serves as Treasurer), Will Madden of Entegra Bank, Natalia Tretiakov of The Corner Toy Store and Linda Wood of Church of the Good Shepherd.

“The 2017 Board has affirmed its commitment to a clearly defined set of established goals. Our central focus for this year is ensuring we play our part in "moving the needle" on these issues,” explained Malice Grant, President of the Board. “Our aim is to find a way of addressing challenges that may have stood in the way of responsible economic growth and mindful business development in the community. We look forward to engaging in collaborative work with community partners and helping to find new or innovative approaches to address persistent concerns or problems,” she said.

Chamber Executive Director Stephanie Edwards reviewed the planning discipline and laid out the environmental context for the group’s discussion through a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). She challenged board members to view Cashiers Area communities with a fresh, broad perspective and to consider what will be their own personal leadership legacy.

Edwards also reminded the group that the chamber is not the building or staff but rather the members themselves. In promoting volunteerism, she encouraged directors to ask “if not us, then who?” “We each have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the quality of life of those who live, work and play here on the Plateau,” she said.

Director Rick Stargel briefed colleagues on efforts to date to address a growing village core pedestrian mobility and safety concern which involves both state transportation and county official involvement. The issue includes not only traditional sidewalks, but also crosswalks and the existing pathways system.

Mary Lanning and Chris Conner supported focus on workforce development to ensure a sufficient labor supply to the hospitality, club and business sectors. They will lead efforts to explore effective ways to recruit and retain qualified workers and provide housing opportunities for year-round employment.

An extended discussion took place about the critical need for infrastructure expansion that included water resources, wastewater treatment and broadband connectivity. It was agreed that concerted efforts should be made to address “last mile” obstacles to delivery of high-speed internet which drives economic development.

Chris Conner mentioned the case of a radiologist considering moving to the Plateau but who ultimately purchased a second home elsewhere because of insufficient technology infrastructure for working remotely. The board will work with other stakeholders to leverage the existing fibre optic ring around Cashiers which represents a unique and valuable connectivity opportunity.

Justin Allman and Justin Souma shared a community development project with the group that would promote Sunday retail and pedestrian activity around the Crossroads. The Board will consider a more detailed proposal in the near future.

As a group exercise, directors identified community stakeholders for partnership and also possible projects and activities in support of the Chamber’s Core Purpose that it may sponsor in the coming year.

Special guest Ann Self, Executive Director of The Village Green, who is the Chamber’s appointment to the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority (JCTDA) presented an update on TDA activities and plans for the coming year. In partnership with the Chamber, The Village Green and Zoller’s Hardware unveiled branded solar eclipse glasses in preparation for the August 21, 2017 phenomenon. Mary Lanning, of the Chamber Board, also serves as Vice Chair of the JCTDA and Edwards serves as an ex-officio member of that board.

The Chamber’s Core Purpose is to “Provide extraordinary Leadership in the Cashiers Area as an Advocate for business, Information Source for the community, and Conduit for building destination awareness and responsible growth.”   Past initiatives have included tourism marketing and management, Cashiers Area Visitor Guide & Membership Directory (90K copies distributed since 2014), Cashiers Area Shopping & Dining Guide (25K since 2015), (comprehensive online community calendar), Crossroads banner stand, Cashiers wayfinding signage, Spirit of Our Community Awards, Cashiers pathways system, Business After Hours Showcase & Networking Receptions, Red Ribbon new business celebrations, History of Success and Success Sweepstakes campaigns to recognize small business achievements, annual Cashiers Christmas Parade, training seminars and collaborative support for other civic organizations (Glenville Initiative Group, Village Green, Village Conservancy). 

For more information, visit or call 828-743-5191.

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