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By Adam Armour

Itawamba County Times

Should the city of Fulton and Itawamba County Development Council team up Avengers style to employ a new chamber of commerce director? County officials think so.

Acting Itawamba County Development Council Director Harvey Clements recently asked the Fulton Board of Aldermen to consider entering talks with the county about partnering up to employ ICDC Community Development Director Kim Graham as the director of a new Fulton chamber of commerce. Chamber work typically involves creating area functions and events and working with local businesses to promote the overall growth of a local economy.

Under Clement’s proposal, the county and city would split the cost of Graham’s salary. Her office would remain at the county-owned ICDC building, though a sign could be placed on the door designating it as Fulton’s Chamber of Commerce, also.

“You don’t have a brick and mortar. We do. And we don’t have all the resources that you do,” Clements said.

Although not named as such in her title, Graham essentially served as the county’s chamber of commerce for several years. Easily her most notable success in that capacity was the creation of the now-annual Stand By Your Grill BBQ Championship, a professional cooking event that brings hundreds of people into the city each year.

Chamber of commerce work has been an area of contention between the Fulton board and ICDC in recent years. Chamber work was a one-time staple ICDC service that has been put on the back burner in favor of a stronger focus on economic development, a decision that was fully supported by both the ICDC Board of Directors and the county’s Board of Supervisors.

But Fulton officials have previously expressed concerns that the lack of chamber work is hurting the city. At one point, city officials considered forming their own chamber of commerce to pick up the slack, but found it cost prohibitive.

The disagreement between the two entities culminated last year in a separation of the Stand By Your Grill BBQ Championship’s professional competition and downtown festival. Once managed entirely by the ICDC, the festival portion of the event is now being solely handled by the city of Fulton.

The city of Fulton is one of several local entities that chips in to fund the ICDC. While most of the ICDC’s funds come from Itawamba County, which budgets $50,000 to the organization each year, the city of Fulton chips in $2,000 each month, or $24,000 annually. Mantachie contributes $350 each month, for a total of $4,200 annually.

Although the city and county haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on where the ICDC should focus its attention, Clements believes the two could come together and form a strong working relationship. If chamber work divided them, maybe it could bring them back together.

“Chamber of commerce work is important. Come together with the county and lay out a path where we can have both a chamber of commerce and an economic developer,” he said. “They want an economic developer; you want a chamber of commerce. They think we can have both, but not separately.”

Clements called for a union. Basically, he asked the city board to sit down with county officials, who he said approve of the idea.

“There’s a way to do this,” Clements said. “We can sit down and work this out. I already have a budget; I already have a plan. We can make this work if you want to.”

Whether or not the board is keen on Clements’ idea was hard to determine. Aldermen didn’t respond to Clements’ proposal either positively or negatively.

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