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Chamber pushing forward with gateways project
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Effingham Chamber of Commerce leaders are forging ahead with plans to spruce up the county’s gateways.

Chamber officials have met with state Department of Transportation representatives and have applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design for design services, Chamber president Freddy Long said.

The initiative is creating a lot of interest in the county, he said. Though the DOT has been agreeable to the proposal, it may not be able to offer much help, according to Long. Yet the Chamber will be undeterred in its efforts, he told Effingham Industrial Development Authority members Thursday.

“The project is ongoing,” he said. “We’ll get this done.”

Leadership Effingham is taking a lead role in the gateways project. The class, 20-plus-strong, has been divided into different groups, each tasked with a different topic. Another group is working with the tourism committee, which is in the final stages of putting together rack cards to place in the I-95 and Savannah welcome centers.

The Chamber’s membership stands at 501 after its latest membership drive, which also helped the Chamber clean up its member rolls, eliminating instances where members were listed twice.

“Things are positive with the Chamber,” Long said. “A lot has been going on and lot is going to be happening.”

Said IDA Chief Executive Officer John Henry: “It’s been a banner year for the Chamber of Commerce, and I think 2008 will be another banner year.”

Chamber leaders also hope the organization will earn the entrepreneur friendly community designation from the state next month, according to Long.

Chamber officials were impressed by their visit to the Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce’s business resource center. The local Chamber’s guide on how to go into business has been finished, Long said, and there were 20 people at a recent business resource workshop. The Effingham Chamber is creating its own business resource center.

“It will be a great thing for Effingham County,” Long said. “It shows we are pro-small business.”

The Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber partnered with surrounding counties for a computer program that provides demographic and other essential information for prospective businesses. The program allows potential business owners to see what a particular franchise may require when it comes to traffic counts and income levels and it also breaks down those numbers to a particular location.

Chamber Executive Director Ken Stoner said the organization will ask for a $10,000 grant from the state to put toward small business programming for the entrepreneur friendly task force.

The Chamber foundation’s tax exempt status has been approved and that will enable the Chamber to pursue grants. The Chamber still must appoint a board of directors for the foundation.

Chamber ambassadors took part in 15 ribbon cuttings and grand openings and also participated in five business after hours events.

The Chamber’s holiday events also have been successful, Long said, with more than 90 vendors taking part in Christmas in Effingham, which drew more than 3,000 people. Twenty-one businesses took part in the Chamber’s holiday business tour.