Out of all of the hard times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Polk County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Blair Elrod has found plenty of good during the last year.
Elrod, who remains the chamber’s lone paid employee, oversaw a push to educate local businesses on the health and safety guidelines put out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as how to get financial help in the form of federal Paycheck Protection Program loans through the Small Business Alliance.
“We were the first organization in the state to come out last year with information and disseminate information about PPP,” Elrod said. “We had webinars from the SBA and others to help our members take full advantage of it.”
While she was just getting numbers in from the state, Elrod said it looked as though around $20 million was provided to Polk County businesses as part of the COVID-19 stimulus packages.
“That’s a big deal. For Polk County businesses to get that much to help, I feel pretty good about that,” Elrod said.
The assistance to local businesses is just one of the things Elrod said she’s taken pride in as she not only looks beyond the COVID-19 shutdown of special events, but also beyond her time at the chamber.
Elrod announced in January that she would be stepping down as executive director to spend more time with her family. She was named to the post in January, 2018, and will remain in the position until a new leader is in place.
The chamber’s executive board has appointed a search committee led by board chair Dan Bevels to conduct a search for the organization’s next executive director. Bevels is public relations manager for Floyd Medical Center and has served on the chamber’s board since 2019.
“While we’re sad to see Blair step down, we know she’s doing so for a reason that is meaningful and important to her and her husband, Adam,” Bevels said. “Blair stepped into her role with the chamber at a time of challenging transition and has done a wonderful job leading our organization and preparing us for an exciting future.”
A lifelong resident of Polk County and a graduate of Rockmart High School, Elrod has also seen the chamber go from nearly closing to becoming a more invested partner with the Polk County Commission and county administration.
With the threat of going completely broke following months of struggles in trying to work out proper funding, the county commission and the chamber board both approved a memorandum of understanding last August to provide $30,000 in the 2021 fiscal year county budget for the association to promote tourism and business development.
Among the ideas Elrod has shared with the county commission are new events to help boost Polk County’s recognition on the state level, an annual tourism magazine listing wedding venues, lodging, entertainment options and yearly events and activities, and a new Polk-only guide map for the Silver Comet Trail.
Elrod also has plans to rollover $5,000 of each year’s budget toward the goal of having gateway signage at the county line on each major highway. She said that would take five to six years.
The chamber also sponsored a mask drive last August to collect enough face masks to distribute to every elementary school student in the Polk School District. A generous donation of 3,800 face masks from Gildan Cedartown helped the chamber meet its goal and have enough adult-sized masks for every district employee.
“The work she did during COVID getting information out to business and chamber members did a lot to provide a consistent message to the businesses and industries of Polk County,” County Commissioner Ray Carter said during the board’s February meeting. “The chamber took that mission on and she did a fantastic job of seeing it through.”
Commission chair Hal Floyd echoed Carter’s sentiments, as did other commissioners.
“We appreciate Blair going the extra mile during her time at the chamber,” Floyd said.
One of the projects Elrod said she hoped would come to fruition before she steps down as executive director is the chamber’s “Polk Grown” initiative, which would officially label anything locally grown or made in Polk County.
“We want to pull members from different industries to be on a small committee that can review different logos and discuss what we want it to look like,” Elrod said. “But I feel like we can accomplish it this year.”
Elrod said the logo would be a local branding for stores and packaging, as well as able to use on websites for local businesses. She said there would be a vetting process to allow a business to use the logo.
In the meantime, Elrod said there are still plans for different events to highlight local businesses, depending on how this year plays out in terms of the COVID pandemic.
She is already deep into planning the Polk County Great Easter Egg Hunt, which sees businesses place large poster-sized eggs in their windows for the public to find in the weeks leading up to Easter.
The annual Homespun Festival, which was canceled last year because of COVID-19, has been tentatively moved to the fall for Rockmart’s Seaborn Jones Park.