Turner sets bar high at Knox Chamber

Frank CagleOur Town Leaders, West Knoxville

It seems inevitable that Terry Turner would become a businessman.

Like many Southern families in the 1950s and 1960s, his went to Ohio to find work. Shortly after he was born, in 1967, the family moved home to Clinton. As soon as he was old enough, Turner was involved in the family businesses. Grocery stores. A car lot. A pizza restaurant.

“My dad’s grocery in Clinton back in the 1970s had self-serve gas pumps, a deli.” These were innovations at the time. “I swept the parking lot, price-marked stock.” And when the family opened a restaurant in Lake City, he made pizzas.

After high school he did brief stints at Roane State Community College and the University of Tennessee. “I decided college wasn’t for me. I worked at a White Store. I got a job at Hewgley’s Music Shop in 1988 and was there until 1991.” It was there that he met his future wife, Regina, who was a customer. “I met her out one night and asked for a date. One year later we were married.” They have two sons, one at UT and the other at Bearden High School.

Turner went to work at Party Rentals in 1991 and was there in 1998 when the company was sold to a national chain called RentX. He stayed on and worked his way up to regional manager with the national company. In 2002 he left to start his own company, All Occasions Party Rentals. In 2004 he bought the RentX store. “That gave me a lot of satisfaction.”

His company has been a success. He has 75 employees, and his talents have not been lost on the Knoxville business community. Turner is chair of the 2,200-member Knox Area Chamber Partnership and is on the board of Zoo Knoxville, the Tennessee Valley Fair and the Better Business Bureau. He’s served as president of the American Rentals Association.

During his tenure as chair of the Chamber board, long-serving CEO Mike Edwards announced his retirement. That put Turner as head of a committee to find a new leader for the business community. The committee had two choices: Look locally or do a national search. The consensus seemed to be that after 17 years of Edwards at the helm, the organization needed a “fresh pair of eyes.” The search began with Edwards’ announcement last fall and was completed recently with the announcement that Mike Odom would step into the job beginning June 3.

“First of all, Terry is a terrific businessman,” says Edwards. “He started his company from scratch. He had a tough job (during the Chamber leader search) because there were a lot of viewpoints out there among the members.”

Picking a Chamber CEO means finding someone with a variety of skills. “The chamber job has three parts: increasing membership, economic development and public advocacy for business,” says Turner.

Odom heard about the Knoxville job and applied for it. He’s from Round Rock, Texas, and his organization was named Chamber of the Year in 2018. His background is in marketing. Round Rock is near Austin, Texas. “It’s about like Farragut is to Knoxville.”

What about some high-profile corporate headquarters leaving town? Mergers moved the Regal and Scripps Networks top management elsewhere.

“It hurts. But where it really hurts is with philanthropy. It just isn’t the same as having the top people living in the community.”

The No. 1 problem facing the business community today is “workforce development. Education is so important. Finding people for jobs is tough.” Staff turnover and constant training of new employees is a major problem. Employers say that on any given day they never know who is going to show up.

While these will still be concerns, he will be turning these issues and the Chamber reins over to someone else come June 30, the end of his two-year term.

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