All Boats Rise with a Rising Tide

~~ By Jan Hackett, President, Fannin County Chamber of Commerce ~~

November 1, 2016 was my 15th work anniversary with the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce. It seems like yesterday that I first walked into the Chamber (next door to United Community Bank) for an interview with Kay Kendall after moving to Blue Ridge from Rome, Ga.

In 2002, the Chamber had 450 members and Da­vid Ralston was Chairman of the Board. At that time, there were 350 rental cabins and 2,000 second homes in Fannin County. I remember two restaurants in downtown Blue Ridge, the Victorian Tea Room and Lindsey’s Malt Shop. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway started op­eration in 1998 and by 2003 had 30,000 riders. Mercier Orchards was open only six months of the year. There was no Walmart, no Home Depot, and no Comfort Inn. In 2001-2002, we lost 1,000+ textile jobs and Levi Strauss closed.

When I moved here, I was looking for a better qual­ity of life and that’s exactly what I got. There is no doubt that we have the most beauti­ful place to live in the world — and with the finest, kindest and most generous friends and neighbors. In the mean­time, the growth and pros­perity of Fannin County has beat all odds. Just last week a Wall Street Journal article mentioned Blue Ridge, Ga as one of a handful of rural towns that have thrived in spite of the loss of manu­facturing jobs in the past de­cade. When people ask me how we have done this, I say it has been a “perfect storm.” All boats rise in a rising tide.

Today we have 730+ mem­bers. Fannin County has hun­dreds of new businesses (lots of them restaurants). Fannin Regional Hospital has at­tracted specialists of almost every kind, and we have a new assisted living center that opened at 99 percent capacity. Tractor Supply and TJ Maxx also opened new stores here in 2016. There are more than 1,000 rental cabins and 4,000 part time residences in the county, and our population contin­ues to grow. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway has 65,000 riders every year. Tourism has grown exponentially. In 2002 tourism lodging expen­ditures were $4.5 million. In 2016 they will reach $31 million.

What a privilege to be part of all of the great things that have happened here in the last 15 years!

Thanks so much to all who have made my work here such a blessing.