Community members stopped by in small groups throughout lunch time Thursday to welcome Butch Burney on his very first day as Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce president/chief executive officer-elect.
Burney will work with Lezley Brown, who announced earlier this year that she will be resigning as president/CEO later this month in order to seek new challenges and opportunities, for about two weeks to make the transition go as smooth as possible. Brown’s last day is April 16.
“We are excited about welcoming him to the Chamber family. We are family around here. That’s the way we have operated for a long long time. We’re excited to welcome him on board. I told him I going to try to teach him whatever I could kind of like a fire hydrant: just stand in front of it and take whatever you can get,” Brown said with a laugh.
Brown says while it’d be hard to pick just one event as a favorite or most memorable, hosting the annual Hopkins County Stew Contest during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was probably her most challenging as Chamber president/CEO. She recalled also holding her breath at last year’s Chamber Banquet, when the patio lights strung in the Civic Center almost came crashing down when one of the flags got tangled in a string as they were being brought in.
“I don’t know that one stands out more than another. We’ve had a great time for five years, so it’s hard to pick just one,” Brown said, noting that while she’s a little sad to be leaving something she’s been a part of for five years and that has become such way of life for her family, but is excited too. “Seasons change. It’s time for a little change, so I want to embrace it. I love change, so we’ll see what’s next.”
For Burney, that change will began Thursday, April 1, 2021, his first official day of employment with the Chamber of Commerce.
On April 9, Burney will be assisting at the annual Chamber Golf Tournament, and Brown noted, plans have already begun for this year’s Hopkins County Stew Contest. So, as soon as the tourney is over, he’ll jump right in to the deep end with Stew planning.
But, Burney is no stranger to either the Golf Tournament or the Stew. He not only grew up and has worked and lived in Hopkins County for years, but also as a part of the Chamber has in the past worked various fundraising events including the golf contest.
“He’s been a part of the Chamber for a long time, so he’s got an idea what’s coming but we’re going to kind of punt to him that day,” Brown said.
Burney served on the Chamber Board for five years, but recently took 1 1/2 year off. In fact, he was on the board when Brown was hired and praised her work in the top role.
“I’ve seen the great things she’s done with the Chamber. She really has positioned it extremely well with the budget and events that she’s done and the outreach and all that,” Burney said.
After the Chamber president/CEO job was posted following Brown’s announcement of planned resignation from the seat, Burney said he talked to several people about it.
“It just seemed like a good opportunity and a good challenge,” Burney said.
Looking ahead, Burney said he plans to continue working to further the Chamber’s goal to help all businesses, especially the smaller businesses, and to continue being a proponent of the city, promoting the way of life and business life in Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County. The Chamber exists to support businesses and is looking at additional means of doing so.
“We’ve been talking about maybe some additional things we’re going to do to help small businesses because that’s the bulk of our membership – small businesses. Larger industries have their own resources they can rely on, but small business is still the heartbeat of small towns like Sulphur Springs and small counties like Hopkins County. There are a few things we’ve got in the works to help small businesses. We’ll be unveiling them as we put those in order and get those working,” he said.
Outreach is another key goal for the Chamber moving forward. Burney said he and the Chamber plan to reach out to members and businesses to better understand their needs and find ways the Chamber can better help them meet those needs.
Burney said as the city begins opening the square and facilities back up to the community with what appear to be improvements in the COVID-19 situation, the Chamber is following suit. For instance, the annual golf tournament next Friday and the Hopkins County Stew Contest are expected to return to normal, barring a few adjustments in the stew site map for better accessibility on the 14 acres at the park where it’s held or changes in the pandemic that would require. These are among the many things that help reach the Chamber Executive Board’s goal of ramping activities back into full swing.
“I think everybody’s ready to start getting back to some normalcy. As soon as we can start rolling things out we’re going to,” Burney said.
Burney said his family has always been a Hopkins County family. He was born and raised here, and his wife is from Como. He has worked in Hopkins County for “quite a bit” of his adult life.
“The reason that we have stayed here and we have worked here is that we love Hopkins County and we love Sulphur Springs. We want to see the best for the county and for the city,” Burney said. “I think it’s win-win. If the city wins then the people who live here win and the Chamber wins. If businesses, then the Chamber wins. It’s just a win-win situation. We just want to promote Sulphur Springs and do whatever we can to make this the best place to live and work.”
He noted all of the changes that have occurred since the 1970s, 80s and 90s, citing Celebration Plaza as a great meeting place downtown, the improvements and expansions at the hospital in at least the last decade, and the growth of a cross section of small and large industries and retail. Sulphur Springs has continued to get better and Burney hopes to be a part of continuing that progress through his work with the Chamber.
“Sulphur Springs has done a fantastic job of prospering, I think, especially in the last 10-15 years,” Burney said. “I am happy to have seen that happen. We just want to continue to be a part of that.”