Julie Blaylock stepped into some big shoes a year ago and so far it’s a great fit. For 17 years those shoes were worn by Bettye Sisco as the president and chief executive officer of the Farragut West Knox Chamber of Commerce. Today, a year after she took over from Bettye, Julie is enjoying the job and life.
“I love this job,” she says in her Kingston Pike office. “I’ll be honest – it has been a mental and emotional adjustment for me. After a couple of months I was exhausted, but it’s a good kind of exhaustion. It’s about the people and their businesses and engaging them and I love it.”
Dec. 31, 2016, was Sisco’s last day. For five years Blaylock, 38, was Sisco’s administrative assistant, and she learned a great deal by watching and listening to her mentor. She served as interim director for a brief period before being offered the job full time. She officially took over on Feb. 9, 2017.
“Bettye has such great compassion and love for this community and I saw and felt that day in and day out,” she says. “There’s only one Bettye Sisco.”
When Sisco began in 2000, the Chamber was down to 100 members and was $30,000 in debt. Sisco’s energy and passion, coupled with an effective board of directors, dug the Chamber out of the hole and when Blaylock took over the Chamber was in the black and its membership today is approximately 700.
“Bettye left the Chamber stable and successful, and my intent is to make the wheels turn faster, to focus on growth and value for the membership and offer more programs and services,” Blaylock says. “This has been fun, working with different people and learning their personalities, getting to know their businesses and what they need and want from the Chamber.”
And what does Sisco think about her protégé after a year: “Julie is doing superb work for the Chamber and the members. You have to love a Chamber to do the work, and she loves the Chamber. She has the desire and has had it since the day I first met her. She has all the traits to lead our Chamber, and I am so happy for her.”
The Chamber is a lean operation with only three full-time employees. Suzanne Krygier is the office manager at the front desk who answers the phones and welcomes you. Therese Bradbury is Blaylock’s executive assistant.
For 45 weeks of the year, the Chamber hosts weekly networking events on Thursdays (at either 8 a.m. or 5 p.m.) at a member’s business, and Blaylock attends some 35 to 40 new business ribbon cuttings annually. Then there is the popular quarterly Breakfast Speaker Series at Fox Den Country Club. Recent programs at the breakfast events included programs on opioids, cyber security and economic development, all led by prominent speakers.
One program Blaylock wants to resume in 2018 is the “Lunch and Learn” programs focused on topics like improving technology in the workplace, learning more about cloud-based support, advertising strategies and creating effective websites.
Blaylock is thinking ahead, and ahead means she’s working a year out, already planning next year’s major events for programs and speakers. Her plan is to have the Chamber more involved in supporting education in the community and helping member businesses broaden their business knowledge.
The Chamber now offers continuing education scholarships up to $500 for reimbursement and that is funded by the Chamber’s Enterprise Membership program, which are membership levels above and beyond a standard membership. The Enterprise Club has four levels of Chamber membership – Admiral Elite for $10,000+, Admiral for $5,000, Captain for $2,500 and Anchor for $1,000. Each level includes special benefits for member businesses.
The Chamber’s biggest fundraiser is the annual Dinner Auction, and the next one is planned for May 11 at Rothchild Catering and Conference Center. In 2017 the Chamber awarded two deserving students $1,000 scholarships and this year is adding a $1,000 small business scholarship. Two Farragut High School students who were interns at the Chamber received the scholarships at the 2017 dinner auction event.
Three years ago Julie married husband Eric Blaylock, and they live in Fountain City. “I got Eric plus three wonderful stepchildren, and we have three cats we adore, all rescued from the shelter,” she said. Eric works at the University of Tennessee in the Facilities Department. Julie has a degree in English from the University of Tennessee.
Julie, a native New Yorker from Rockville Centre, is used to fighting through tough times. In 2011, she became a cancer survivor after six years of treatment for breast cancer.
She’s also immersing herself in all things Farragut. She has become a very active part of the Rotary Club of Farragut, and in July 2018 becomes a part of the club’s leadership team as the club secretary and a board member. Away from work she stays busy — doing leatherwork crafts with Eric, riding motorcycles, going to concerts, cooking, and “keeping after our three adopted black cats.”
“We are busy here at the Chamber, and we’re going to stay busy,” she said. “If you get bored with this job, you have a problem, and I don’t have a problem. I’m loving this, every facet of it, every day.”