Barrow Chamber of Commerce celebrates 60 years

WINDER - The Barrow County Chamber of Commerce today celebrates 60 years of service.

Originally called the Winder Chamber of Commerce, the nonprofit organization was created on Jan. 23, 1947, during a meeting held at the Winder Women's Club. Members of a committee appointed by the now-defunct Better Hometown Committee established the Chamber of Commerce.

Days later, on Jan. 27, Claude Tuck was named president; Paul Hosch, vice president and Harvey Woodward, secretary/treasurer. The chamber began with 37 members and seven more joined within a month.

At their first official meeting Feb. 11, members instituted four major goals: to help add 1,000 workers to Winder's payrolls, to promote adequate housing in Winder and Barrow County, to encourage construction of a Winder swimming pool and to assist in improving the high school's athletic field.

Members visualized the Winder Chamber of Commerce as a driving force that would bring a new hotel to Winder, establish a farmer's market, improve housing and recreational facilities, boost civic and church organizations and stimulate construction, industrial development and retail trade.

Chamber officials accomplished two goals that first year. Winder manufacturers donated $23,000 to build a swimming pool and a committee worked with the state Adjutant General's office to organize a Barrow County National Guard unit.

In 1947, Barrow County was primarily a farming and dairy community, although it had some clothing manufacturers due to the area's cotton growth and proximity to the railroad. Chamber members counted the number of employees in local plants and surveyed residents to discover how many more would be interested in working in local plants.

On Jan. 18, 1957, it incorporated as the Winder-Barrow Chamber of Commerce. The chamber operated in the former City Hall building on South Broad Street until 1958, when it moved to the fourth floor of People's Bank. It moved again in 1977 to its current location in the former Seaboard Coast Line Railroad depot at Broad and Porter streets.

Today, the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce supports about 650 members with leadership programs and networking opportunities. It also sponsors the annual Farm City Tour and helps organize the Christmas parade, streetscape beautification, a golf tournament in the spring and the Home and Business Expo in the fall.

In 2006, the chamber added Women in Business, which draws about 30 businesswomen to monthly educational lunches.

This year, chamber officials expect to hire an economic development director to work to bring business and industry into Barrow County.

"Barrow County is the fourth fastest-growing county in the state," said Debbi Krause, vice president of membership services. "We are an emerging urban area with only 10 full-time farmers still in the county. Manufacturers are finding it is cheaper to do business here than ship it overseas, due to our proximity to the railroad, the Port of Savannah and the Northeast Georgia Regional Airport. Within the next 10 to 20 years people will not have to leave Barrow County to go to work."