34 years, gender shift

Female power grows through time with FWK Chamber

  • As Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce reflects on its 34th anniversary, its staff looks back at news clippings, such as this one from Oct. 8, 1997, a ribbon cutting for the Chamber’s “new location” in Farragut Crossroads Professionial Building, 11826 Kingston Pike, its current location. Among those on hand for the ceremony were: from left, Dan Olsen, then Town of Farragut administrator; Linda Ford, representing then Mayor Eddy Ford; Michael Bates, facility builder and tenant; Kasi Southard, then Chamber president; and Marilyn Cobble, then Chamber past president. - Photo submitted

  • Julie Blaylock, Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce president/CEO, talks to members before introducing Alan Hill, regional director of ATT&T, which hosted a Chamber networking at the AT&T store, 11555 Parkside Drive in Turkey Creek, Thursday, April 29. As one of its many services, the Chamber has been holding such networkings for years so business people can share information and ideas, while having a good time as they mingle. - Photo submitted

As Farragut West Knox County Chamber president/CEO Julie Blaylock reflected on this year’s 34th anniversary — and the Chamber’s upcoming 35th — she remembered the challenges it faced and inroads its female staff have made.

“We’re really excited,” Blaylock said.

The Chamber was officially started May 1, 1987, seven years after the incorporation of the Town of Farragut. Blaylock has been serving FWKCC since November 2011, first as executive assistant before taking the reins in as president/CEO in February 2017, when then president/CEO Bettye Sisco, who started at the Chamber in 2001, retired.

Blaylock noted she is the Chamber’s fifth president/CEO — also the fifth female to hold that staff leader position, which, she added, “is also kind of impressive. At the beginning (of the organization), they were called executive directors.

“Chambers of Commerce, as an industry — especially if you talk to the Tennessee State Chamber, which is connected to the hundred-plus Chambers in the state — definitely has trended more toward female in terms of its leadership over the years.”

Going back a few decades, “it was a very male-dominated industry, which was to be expected,” Blaylock said. “Going through our news clippings and archives … it wasn’t until the 1990s that we had our first female board chair (Patty Beaty with Waste Connections from 1994 to 1995), and that was a big deal for us.

“Once upon a time, this role that I’m in now was called the Secretary to the Board,” she added. “The chair was called the president.”

The “secretary” was not given any leadership title,” Blaylock said.

She also noted FWKCC’s office “has tended to be female staffed for at least 20 years now.”

The changes in female roles at the Chamber mirrored “a lot of the same advances women have gotten to make across a lot of different industries … just making inroads into industries where they never had before,” Blaylock said.

“We’re seeing women in leadership across the country now at all different levels,” she added.

Blaylock also reported an increase in membership and Chamber activities, going from seven networkings a year in 2001 to 40 or 45 a year at present, as well as improvements in technology and services, such as continuing education scholarships.

Despite the pandemic — and while some businesses have come and gone — she said FWKCC continues to have supportive members.

Although she acknowledged 34 is not a milestone year, “I’m sure we’ll do something really big for 35 next year,” Blaylock added. “Every year that an organization or business survives and thrives, especially amid the climate and circumstances we’ve all dealt with this past year, that’s something to celebrate.”

Annual auction returning

The Chamber is looking forward to bringing back its annual auction this year.

“After concluding this fiscal year, we would have gone two fiscal years without having our auction, which is our biggest fundraiser, because of COVID,” Blaylock said.

“So, we’re going to host it in September, which is what we had planned to do late last year, to make sure that we would be able to have an event of that size and scale safely,” she added.