Highland County Chamber of Commerce 2021 Summary – Part 1

This is Chris Swecker, Executive Director of the Highland County Chamber of Commerce.  I hope you all are well as we head into the end of 2021.  I wanted to give an update and overall review of the Chamber’s highlights and accomplishments during a time that has brought many challenges but also offered many opportunities.  The Highland County Chamber of Commerce is a 501(c)6 nonprofit organization with a mission is to lift up local businesses and entrepreneurs, promote Highland County, and champion economic prosperity and quality of life. We seek to create a County that is recognized worldwide as a unique destination.  I’ll be reporting on stats mainly from our fiscal year, which would be from October 1st of 2020 through September 30 of 2021.

The Chamber has over 150 members, ranging from businesses to nonprofits to individuals and to supporters.  We had 24 new or returning Members join the Chamber during our last fiscal year.    Our Board currently consists of 7 dedicated Chamber Members who have a vested interest in the community and the Chamber’s mission.  Our Board currently consists of President Dan Kauffman, Vice President Marty Leech, Secretary Missy Moyers-Jarrells, Treasurer Troy Snead, Harmony Leonard, Lou Anne Neely, and Marsha Lunsford.  Our staff includes myself and Executive Assistant Cappy Jackson.

The Chamber is one year into its redesign of our website highlandcounty.org, which is a powerful force to convey messages to the public and promote our brand here in Highland.  During our last fiscal year, we had over 42,000 users and over 106,000 pageviews.  We also use social media frequently to advertise for our Chamber Members and for the community.  Our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/highlandcounty has grown to over 11,000 likes with a page reach of nearly 500,000 from organic and paid posting.  We also have an Instagram page which has grown to over 1,400 followers with a reach of over 3,000, which we continue to build upon.

As Executive Director of the Chamber, I am also Executive Director of the 5-member volunteer team of the Highland Tourism Council by default, working with them to leverage time and maximize the effectiveness of the Transient Occupancy Tax money that’s collected from short term rentals in the county.  In conjunction with the Tourism Council and local syrup producers, we launched the Virginia Maple Syrup Trail in 2020, which has been a great asset to not only advertise our county’s maple industry but provide local economic opportunity.  If you’re not familiar with the Trail, this is a program where you can visit 7 Highland County sugar camps outside of the busy maple festival weekends and those preceding weeks – and that exclusion time will be March 7 – 20 in 2022 – but you can visit those sugar camps for a tour and taste of syrup.  You can pick up a passport at the camp or beforehand at various locations in and outside of the county, and once you visit the camp, do your tour, you can get the passport stamped at each visit.   If you visit all 7, you will get a prize of a shirt and a bumper sticker.  One family that completed the Trail from Texas said, “Thank you for giving our family the most memorable vacation we have ever had.”  You can visit virginiamaplesyrup.com to learn more.

The Chamber is the lead organization for our annual Hands & Harvest Festival, held during the second weekend of October, and Wintertide, held during the first Saturday in December.  We have been very pleased with the turnout in 2021 at those two events as we’ve returned to full in-person events, and now we shift focus to the return of the Highland County Maple Festival, set for March 12 – 13 and 19 – 20, 2022.    We will have more safety measures at the festival, including additional hand sanitizer units, and we do have a contingency plan with the Fair Association just in case we have to move some of the festival outside from our indoor spots, but we are not anticipating that at this time.

Coming up in part 2 of our story, we’ll continue with some more of what your Highland County Chamber of Commerce has been up to in the last fiscal year.

Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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