Following are my remarks as outgoing chair of the Greater Shawnee Chamber of Commerce given February 19, 2015 at the annual banquet.
In the years following the Civil War, the federal government removed and resettled several tribes to an area referred to as Indian Territory. Land was deeded to the Sac and Fox, then the Kickapoo, Shawnee and Pottawatomie tribes in the very area we now call home – Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Over the next decades, cowboys drove herds through the West Shawnee Trail and following the Land Run of 1891, Boomers staked out the territory that is now also part of Shawnee.
Then came the rapid growth of agribusiness including cotton gins, an overall factory, Round House, and a world-class flour mill, Shawnee Mills. The turn of the century brought the railways, the Atchison, Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf, the Topeka, Santa Fe, Missouri, and the Kansas and Texas railway.
City leaders joined hands, linked arms, and pulled together to advance Shawnee. Oklahoma Baptist University and St. Gregory’s University were opened in Shawnee in 1910 and 1915 respectively. Our citizens pulled together and after lengthy campaigns and multiple efforts succeeded in moving the county seat from its established home in Tecumseh, to Shawnee, Oklahoma. Airports and a strong manufacturing base, and more recently a rapid growth in retail developed followed.
Known throughout its history as the Central City of the State, as Forest City, as the Heart of Oklahoma, our city is a crown jewel and growing, largely due to our founders’ efforts and ability to cast a vision, to work together and cooperate for a greater purpose.
Our efforts as the Chamber this year have concentrated on a few key areas:
1. We continued our emphasis on advancing education. Led by Joe Ford, this is a multi-year effort that will continue in the coming years.
2. We placed an emphasis on improving membership benefits and increasing membership. Led by our CEO, Nancy Keith, our 2014 membership drive was a major success and the chamber has added several new benefits to membership including new online training programs and new social media marketing benefits.
3. We worked on transitioning our Convention and Visitors Bureau to a self-standing entity – Visit Shawnee, Inc. patterned on the very successful Shawnee Economic Development Foundation. SEDF has proven to be an extremely successful model of cooperation between our City government and area business leaders. As our Mayor and City Manager, along with community and business leaders, have worked together this year, a renewed interest in tourism through Visit Shawnee is a testament to our shared commitment to advance tourism in Shawnee. I want to personally thank Wes Mainord for his hands-on involvement in designing the new VSI. VSI, as designed by its board chosen in consultation with the City, has great potential and Mayor Mainord worked in good faith to develop the proposal now before our City. And as long as no one steps in at this juncture and messes it up, the proposal now before the council is one that will demonstrate our ability as a city to cooperate for the common good.
4. We worked hard this year on developing best practices as a chamber. The board adopted a number of new policies and guidelines this year to ensure accountability and professionalism in all that we do.
5. We concentrated on moving our city forward together. We are determined as a Chamber to be a positive voice for business and community. I asked this last year for Nancy to concentrate this year on cooperation, communication, and celebration. We are bullish on our future as a city. And we have much to celebrate.
Our city is advancing. Our future is bright. We stand on the shoulders of those who pushed past personal agendas in order to see our home become a shining City on a Hill. Our forebears worked together, from our original citizens, the Sac and Fox, Shawnee, Kickapoo and Pottawatomie tribes, to the cowboys who arrived on cattle drives, to the Oklahoma Boomers, to the railroad workers, farmers, and business leaders, they worked together. They shared a vision for a brighter tomorrow.
May we learn a lesson from them and link arms, determined to move forward together, putting aside personal agendas, refusing to allow the naysayers and distractors to divide us. Let’s determine to work together, Tribes, farmers, Boomers and business leaders. Because we still have much to accomplish as a city. We still have a legacy to leave to those who come after us.
Thank you for the privilege of being a part of the Chamber leadership this year.