The days of Williamsburg and Corbin having separate chambers of commerce could soon be going by the wayside.
The Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce voted Thursday afternoon to form an exploratory committee that will meet with Corbin officials to work out the details of a possible merger to form a regional chamber of commerce.
The move came during Thursday’s monthly meeting following a presentation by Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison and Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White Jr.
The two told chamber members that they had met last Wednesday night with several Corbin officials, and that the Corbin Chamber of Commerce has agreed to drop its name to form a regional Southeastern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, if the Williamsburg chamber is interested.
"The hope is that we would move forward bringing in other counties, possibly McCreary, Laurel and Knox and become a huge chamber of commerce where we would have one voice for this end of the state to go forward in Frankfort," Harrison said.
He said the proposal calls for equal representation on a regional chamber between Corbin and Williamsburg, and to alternate meetings between the two towns or member towns.
Harrison said that he has long had a goal of restarting the chamber of commerce in Williamsburg, and admits that a year ago, he didn’t support the idea of Williamsburg joining a regional chamber.
"I wanted to see if we, as local businesses, could get involved in a chamber of commerce," he said. "I felt like if we just jumped in before we started a chamber of commerce here, it would appear this end of the county was not willing to do anything.
"I really wanted to see a Williamsburg city chamber of commerce started, and then look to the future as far as regionalization. It is an opportunity to join forces and become one voice. This might be the chance we have to take a giant step forward."
White noted that if you start combing two or three counties in southeastern Kentucky, then you could begin speaking with a political voice as loud as Lexington or Louisville.
"There is a lot of population as far as Kentucky if you start adding up Whitley, Laurel, Knox County and Bell County, then you can start putting together an organization that can really work to our advantage," White noted.
He said Northern Kentucky has joined 16 cities and counties together to form one chamber that can speak for that region in Frankfort.
"I really think this is a good opportunity," White added.
Harrison noted that this doesn’t mean the two towns won’t still try to beat one another on Friday night on the football field, but it does mean that on Saturday morning they will come together to work for the betterment of the region.
"As I told Corbin Mayor Willard McBurney last night, we are working for one thing that is job opportunities, economic growth, and progress for our areas," Harrison said.
Harrison said he is willing to support whatever decision the chambers make.
The Williamsburg exploratory committee is composed of President Harvey Alder, Vice-President Cathy Lay, Treasurer Jeff Gray, and Mark White, a member of the board of directors.
Members of the committee expressed optimism over the prospect of a joint or regional chamber.
"I have done some research over the last couple of months in looking not only at the way our economy has changed, but there are numerous entities that are regionalizing now and coming together," Gray said.
"The impact of it basically is that here in Williamsburg we can try to stand on our own and try to grow a little bit on our own, but what kind of growth could we have if we are bringing in the resources of all these other entities, and we expand on that to pull in McCreary and Bell.
"It would have such an impact to be able to go after a lot more things on the state and federal level."
White noted that the measure is something that definitely needs to be considered.
"One of the questions a lot of people have gotten is what benefit are we going to get from it, if we join the Williamsburg chamber," he said.
"Doing this, I think we can probably provide some instantaneous benefits for Williamsburg members where otherwise it would take us two, three, four or five years down the road to get to that point."
After meeting with Corbin officials, the exploratory committee will make a recommendation on the merger, but a final decision will be made by a vote of the members of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce.
Alder noted that a special meeting could be called in order to have the vote.
During Thursday’s meeting, the chamber also voted to amend its bylaws in terms of what constitutes a quorum for meetings.
The prior bylaws had stated that a majority of board members and officers had to be present to constitute a quorum at monthly meetings so regular business could be done.
The amended bylaws state that any members present at a regular meeting should constitute a quorum.
In addition, the chamber heard a presentation from Air Evac Lifeteam representative Bo Farmer, about services offered by the medical air helicopter company, which has a base at the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport.
Farmer told chamber members that the company is getting ready to open five additional bases in the next few weeks, and that it already has about 85 bases in 14 states.
The Williamsburg base makes 30 to 40 flights per month, and that the average cost of an air ambulance flight is $12,500.
If you have paid your membership fees and are enrolled as an Air Evac member, there is no charge for an emergency helicopter flight besides the $50 annual fee, Farmer noted.
He added that chambers of commerce that have signed an agreement to help promote the service could get a discounted rate for the chamber members.
Ten people were present for Thursday’s chamber meeting, which was held at the Williamsburg Tourism and Convention Center.