Jul 10 2012
03:34 pm

We've seen some interesting developments as recent elections brought in new leadership. For example, both the city and county have taken a close look at the KTSC and are now shopping that function around to see if there are better ideas. As a result, the KTSC made dramatic leadership changes and today announced they are changing their name to better reflect what they should have been doing. The threat of competition seems to have gotten their attention.

Should the new leadership take a similar look at the Chamber? Are taxpayers (and members and donors) getting an acceptable return on their investment? Is there a better way?

What if there were a different type of chamber organization that operated on a less partisan, more progressive and cost-effective (and measurable) approach that was focused more on jobs and less on protecting the special interests of the wealthy powers that be?

There are apparently rumblings in the business community that it might be time to consider a different approach. But how would it work? Who would organize it? Who would fund it? Is it even possible, or are the powers that be too politically entrenched?

We mentioned yesterday a couple of recent stories regarding the Chamber. The first was about inquiries into the Knoxville Chamber's spending on advocacy for (or against) policy issues, and whether any taxpayer money was involved. The second story, an apparent response to the first, was about the Chamber setting up a PAC to keep private and public funds separate.

Should the Chamber be involved in political activism? They say yes, it is their "inherent responsibility to take positions for or against any policy" that they feel would be "onerous to the business community and to the growth of the area." What if they take it a step further, and support (or oppose) candidates for office using their new PAC?

Shouldn't their "inherent responsibility" be jobs, jobs and more jobs, recruiting new business and supporting local businesses and startups to promote economic growth? Most folks would have a hard time naming any recent accomplishments in that regard.

Further, how does a local chamber of commerce get the monopoly on speaking for every business in their community, and the taxpayer funding that goes along with it, even when the businesses and taxpayers may not agree with their position?

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Many 501(c)(3)s create separate (c)(4)s, using the latter organizations to conduct more "pointed" advocacy up to and including endorsing candidates for elected office.

This being the case, I don't personally take exception to the KACP doing the same.

HOWEVER, I can't immediately think of any such duo for which the (c)(3) entity receives taxpayer monies?

For me, that KACP might continue to receive taxpayer monies is the pivotal issue here. I don't think that they should.

EconGal's picture

A duo

One such example is in Nashville. The similarities are not coincidental.

Nashville Chamber's SuccessPAC

The state chamber also has a PAC. Chattanooga's chamber has no PAC, but there is a local Chattanooga PAC that serves much of the same purpose as the nashville chamber's SuccessPAC and that the Knoxville chamber anticipates serving.

Edit: I forgot to clarify: the Nashville Chamber receives $300,000 annually from Nashville/Davidson County Metro.

R. Neal's picture

One such example is in

One such example is in Nashville. The similarities are not coincidental.

Nashville Chamber's SuccessPAC

The school board’s District 5 race was a "difficult decision," the SuccessPAC's board chair Darrell Freeman said in an announcement last Friday that gave endorsements to Porter and Elissa Kim, a Teach For America executive who has support among Nashville’s budding charter school community.


cafkia's picture

No. Like so many of us,

No. Like so many of us, theirs is a nested system of responsibility/responsibilities. The human race, the planet, the nation, the state, the city, the business community/environment is a gross ordering of the nesting environment. It makes no sense whatsoever to believe that they can take action or hold positions that are detrimental to the larger communities simply because they appear to be beneficial when you look at them with narrowly focused blinders.

I am really tired of well-paid, stupid people.

EconGal's picture

"I'm tired of well-paid stupid people"

"I'm tired of well-paid stupid people"

Although the findings certainly aren't descriptive of any single, specific individual, recently concluded, long-term research finds a strong positive correlation between IQ and income. The correlation between IQ and wealth is much weaker, if there is any at all.

(True, but I'm not flaming. Just having fun)

The Effect of Education, Personality and IQ on Earnings of High IQ Men, Gensowski, et al

50 cents wasted's picture

With a record of success, they wouldn't need a PAC

Does the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce have a PAC? They do have a proven track record of success in relocating and recruiting business and industry to Hamilton County, whereas Knox County and the Knoxville business community have nothing to show for the millions shelled out time and time again to evey gimmick, promotion, and much balleyhooed drive that the Chamber can come up with.

In my opinion, from the outside looking in, Mike Edwards is a rube, a hick, and a cornball and talks like he has a mouth full of marbles and talks about everything the media will listen to and he has recruited nothing to Knox County in the last 3 years and has recruited nothing but Green Mountain Coffee to Knox County in the past 10 years. All of his gradiosity and pomposity generously steer business and industry directly to other counties and why he is still in this position as chairman is beyond anybody's comprehension.

The emperor has no clothes and the Super Chamber has no record of success in any of their endeavors other than to cajol and finess money out of existing local businesses and local government for their largess, their huge salaries, their perks, their cars, their BCBS health insurance, their matching 401(k) (why does a not for profit need an employee 401(k)?)

If you want a litmus test of why Knoxville cannot attract for profit employers, good jobs, good benefits, living wages, with success they can plow back into the local arts and ammenities, look no further than the Super Chamber and all 40 somthing employees and you'll see why Knoxville is passed over time and time again.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Thanks for that edit, EC. That was going to be my next question to you.

Meanwhile, Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) Superintendent Jesse Register is actively soliciting charter schools via RFPs.

Then there are all these other support services schools have traditionally provided in-house, but which MNPS is outsourcing/privatizing:




WRT education policy, it sure looks like the Chamber is getting its way in Nashville...

Roscoe Persimmon's picture

Biggest problems with the chamber are the people running it

Edwards ascended to the throne to get him out of the mayor's race when Haslam ran for term one. His only qualification to head the SuperChamber was he wanted to be mayor, which would explain the dismal record of business recruitments and relocations to Knox County. Edwards speaks on everything as is competent and qualified in nothing, furthering the problems in the Chamber's role.

Corporate recruiters and relocation specialists don't even bother to call on Knoxville anymore, all Edwards knows to show him are wiped out strip centers and overpriced and abandoned HolRob space. Just ask the relocation people associated with the Loews Hotel back office and the Pillsbury law firm location search firm (which both ended up in downtown Nashville) about Edwards and his bag of hammers and you'll quickly understand why Knoxville remains behind the 8 ball.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


...long-term research finds a strong positive correlation between IQ and income

From the KV sidebar: WBIR reports local program feeds 68,000 stupid children in Knoxville/Knox County this summer (but Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership declines to reconsider its legislative agenda to denounce living wage and attack AHCA).

Flaming, here.

EconGal's picture

Feeding hungry kids

If those kids are hungry they should go out and get jobs, by gawd, so they can drive to Walmart for groceries.

Sylvia Woods's picture

stupid children?

Did it really say 68,000 stupid children and not low income children? Calling children stupid, just because they are hungry is plainly stupid.

Anthony Welsch's picture

First and foremost, let me

First and foremost, let me say I work for the Chamber so I am inherently biased.

To answer Randy's question, the mission of the Knoxville Chamber is to promote regional economic prosperity. Jobs is certainly a part of that. However, it's also making sure the regulatory environment in Knox County is competitive with other areas in the country to do business and attract business.

We don't speak for every business in the community but the Chamber does have more than 2,000 member organizations that feel strongly enough about what we do to invest in membership. Personally, I believe that qualifies the organization to speak to certain business related issues.

The day-to-day economic development and business expansion is handled by Innovation Valley. Innovation Valley operates under a separate memorandum of understanding with Knox County and leads a regional approach to economic development. Their duties include marketing the area, site visits with prospective industries, and visiting with existing industries to facilitate growth.

You may remember the VW distribution center that's broken ground in Roane County --- their first call was to Knox County. Because Knox County didn't have the land necessary for the facility, Innovation Valley was able to push them to their site in Roane County.

I can certainly understand the political arguments that go on against the Chamber. If you have a political opinion, surely someone will disagree with you. On issues the Chamber has taken a position on, our board of directors has voted on whether the organization should advocate or endorse. In the case of the school budget, the board voted unanimously to support the Board of Education's plan. This board of directors is made up of private business owners, many of which are small business owners and entrepreneurs.

None of the Chamber's advocacy efforts have been done using public money.

I'm more than willing to answer any questions and will check the thread periodically in the next few days so long as the dialogue remains civil.

E.H. Crump's picture


It is a ridiculous assertion that there is not enough land zoned Industrial in Knox County for businesses to re-locate or pick Knoxville. Attention prospective industries: if you're looking to relocate to Knoxville, don't call the Chamber of Commerce! Call a real estate agent instead. Or better yet, go to kaarmls.com, and look for yourselves. There are HUNDREDS of Industrial properties for sale or lease inside Knox County--and I found them on kaarmls.com...it took me 5 minutes. It's ridiculous that the Chamber tells us it is necessary to convert our green spaces into industrial parks just because they're too lazy to market what's already available. The Chamber as it is isn't just partisan, it's like a game of political Dungeons and Dragons for the 12 unelected, rich, old white guys who run Knoxville.

Anthony Welsch's picture

If you'd like proof related

If you'd like proof related to where the county money goes, these two .pdf files cover the first three quarters of the past fiscal year. Q4 will be available by the end of the month.

Chamber: (link...)

Innovation Valley: (link...)

Each quarter these reports are filed with the county. The Chamber has also opened up it's records to any commissioner or county officials who would like more details, like exact receipts for expenses or invoices.

Anthony Welsch's picture

Sorry that's "its". Don't

Sorry that's "its". Don't want to give more ammo about our intelligence level!

peixao's picture

Where's the rest?

On the forms, I see no reference to the EMIS contract with Knox County Schools. Where's the forms showing all public monies received?

E.H. Crump's picture


Sorry, Anthony, this is why we need an alternative Chamber--one whose mission to to recruit jobs, not dabble in politics and partisan issues.

Bbeanster's picture

Anthony Welsch? Thought you

Anthony Welsch? Thought you were a TV guy.

Anthony Welsch's picture

Betty, I left WBIR last

Betty, I left WBIR last October.

fischbobber's picture


103,790 page views in the last thirty days. Seems to me if the chamber was serious, they'd be buying some advertising on this site and have a focused message. Just sayin.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Did it really say 68,000 stupid children and not low income children? Calling children stupid, just because they are hungry is plainly stupid.

Sylvia, that was a sarcastic comment on my part (in response to the findings of that study EconGal shared) and I should have flagged it as such.

EconGal, I didn't mean that I was "flaming" at you, either.

I'm "flaming" WRT the audacity of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce in characterizing themselves as White Knights sweeping in to rescue America's poor children from a "failing" public education system, when their own website makes clear their true goal of ensuring that American businesses profit from taxpayer monies earmarked for schools AND when their every legislative focus (anti-minimum wage increases, anti-living wage support, anti-Affordable Health Care Act) will only exacerbate our national problem of a child poverty rate exceeding that of any industrialized nation on the planet, this being the root problem plaguing our schools that they are nevertheless content to ignore--or worse.

Forgive that run-on sentence but I had a lot to pack into it and I believe you'll find it to be properly punctuated.

bizgrrl's picture

In reviewing the Knoxville

In reviewing the Knoxville Area Chamber website, I found some interesting tidbits.

The Workforce Blog and New link most recent entry is dated Feb. 2012.

The chamber's document with ROI for Knox County has some misleading information. In just checking one 2010 ROI for Knox County, the document shows Melaleuca (The Wellness Company) adding 500 jobs to the area. However, the 2010 KNS article indicates 4-5 people would be hired initially, with the company's CEO speculating 45-50 people would be hired each year, reaching a workforce of about 500 within 10 years. Good marketing on the chambers part, but can it really be used as a ROI since the goal has not yet been met? In addition, including Scripps Network as a ROI might be a little much in that Scripps has a heavy presence here with a large campus in West Knoxville. Would their expansion have anything to do with efforts by the chamber?

The "Official Relocation Publication of the Knoxville Chamber" lists the top 10 employers, which include government, hospitals, Wal-Mart, and Food City. Of the top 10 manufacturers listed, six are not in Knox County (1 in Oak Ridge, 3 in Blount, 1 in Monroe, and 1 in Loudon). Does the Knoxville chamber receive funds from these other counties?

It's interesting how when you click on the Area Map from the chamber's Community page, the central point of the map is the University of Tennessee. As we used to say, the University of Tennessee, home of Knoxville. Didn't really think it was that way any more. When you use the map tools to select businesses by category, using Banks or Banking & Financial Institutions, the results show Clayton Bank and Bank of America, none of the other 30 banks listed on a separate chamber page as chamber partners/members.

Through the years chamber of commerce events have amused me. Disclosure, I've never been involved in a chamber of commerce in Tennessee, only in Florida. However, it appears chamber events are the same in both places. On Aug. 15th, the chamber has a Bright Ideas: Be Seen and Heard event. "The success ratio for cold calling is 1 in 20. How would you like to increase your close ratio to 1 in 2?" I sure would. Not going to happen.

Then, there is the Power 30 Speed Networking event. "It is like speed dating, except it is for building business relationships." Attendees will have 1.5 hours to meet 15 other chamber members for 5 minutes. A 30 minute reception will follow.

Not that either of these events are completely useless. They actually might be helpful to small business owners. If someone comes out of either event feeling better or with one new learning tool or contact, it could be beneficial. Owning a small business is hard work and sometimes owners need to get away, need to explore (possible) new opportunities and experiences, even if it just a social opportunity.

I could go on. Chambers of commerce have always been a little mystifying as to their true goal.

Calypso's picture

Well Anthony Welsch, you

Well Anthony Welsch, you could start by explaining "Chamber Math".

Did you all learn this new math from KTSC, or did you teach them? Fussy math and sticking your nose under the tent on the big political pushes makes people wonder if you should get any of our tax money. None of you are elected. So when you stick your nose in the people's business you should expect some push back.

Was that civil enough?

E.H. Crump's picture


I agree, Bizgrrl. Lots of misleading "information" on the Chamber's website. I think it's crazy there's no list of their Board of Directors. At least I can't find it.

bizgrrl's picture

The Board of Directors is

The Board of Directors is listed, just a little buried. Use the "The Chamber" link at the near top of the page, then select the "Membership" link in the box at the left of the page, then select "Boards and Committees" in the box at the left of the page (it looks like a sub-set of Events but it is not). Then select the "Click here for a list of the current Board of Directors", which brings up a pdf file.

R. Neal's picture

KNS report on chamber

KNS report on chamber finances

Basically the same info posted above by Anthony (a couple of one page summary forms) plus a little more explanation of what some of the the line items were for.

Some other questions KNS and commissioners might consider:

• What were the results of the spending (jobs created, companies recruited, businesses expanded, etc.)

• Are there records of spending for lobbying, advertising and promotion, staff time, etc. related to advocacy such as Midway, Ridgetop, School Budget, etc.?

Anthony Welsch's picture

Randy, Here is the ROI


Here is the ROI document for Innovation Valley.


You're right when you said there hasn't been much activity from large new companies moving into Knox County. A big part of that struggle has been finding suitable land for prospects; that's where the Midway debate comes in. However, Innovation Valley has worked with existing businesses to help facilitate a number of expansions as the .pdf illustrates.

As the documents posted earlier show, public money isn't spent on lobbying or advocacy efforts. As an example, with the hillside/ridgetop issue, the Chamber used funding from it's membership base at the direction of the Chamber's board to advocate. That included outside legal aide.

The school budget issue was also paid for with membership dollars. In fact, we've detailed the specific contributions that paid for ad-time associated with our (and Support our Schools) efforts. You likely saw them in News Sentinel and WATE stories:


Thanks for taking the time to look this over. I know we're not going to see completely eye-to-eye but I appreciate your time.

yellowdog's picture

All "jobs" are not the same.

If we need more "jobs" and want public money to help attract and keep them, we could specify what kinds of jobs will improve the community. Should they pay well above the poverty level? Have health insurance and pensions? Be safe and clean? Attract young people? Does the chamber have a position on these issues?

The national chamber would want these jobs to be non-union, which would tend to work against "yes" answers to the earlier questions. Does the local chamber agree with the rightwing positions of the national? If not, why are they affiliated? If so, why do we give them public support?

Anthony Welsch's picture

Yellowdog, You're right about


You're right about the U.S. Chamber and its relationship with unions. In my time at the Knoxville Chamber, we've never taken a stand one way or another regarding unions. I do know that the fact Tennessee is a right to work state plays a big role when we're being looked at by potential industries. Also, we don't give the U.S. Chamber public support in terms of dollars if that's what you're alluding to in your comment.

The Chamber and Innovation Valley want higher paying jobs for the area as well. While we're happy to get the call center jobs and expansions that pay $10-$12/hour, one of the main points in Innovation Valley's strategic plan is leveraging all the technology at ORNL and Y-12 into private sector jobs. Places like the new ProVision proton therapy center at Dowell Springs are big "gets" in our mind and we'd like more of them. Part of the struggle in landing jobs like these is our workforce compared to the rest of the country and world. While our public schools are great compared to Tennessee's urban areas, globally we're not where we need to be.

Thank you for your thoughts and civility-

Tamara Shepherd's picture


If we need more "jobs" and want public money to help attract and keep them, we could specify what kinds of jobs will improve the community.

After reading your (so true) comment, yd, I had to go and dig up for you the hilarious observation one of our school board candidates noted on the questionnaire he completed for the Chamber.

In the only school board race not decided in the March primary (the Third District's Doug Harris vs. Gina Oster), I'm pretty sure Harris--the guy who came out the gate in January with $20K in campaign donations and garnered a total $30K by March--just let Mike Edwards complete his questionnaire, here:

Another local businessman recently shared with me about a company that was considering opening a call center in Knoxville. Unfortunately an independent consultant said that we did not have a workforce that was qualified to adequately fill the positions.


(If you didn't read 'em from all eight candidates before the school board's primary, they're all here.)

Tamara Shepherd's picture

Quick aside...

...as one of Indya's spunky replies may make you snicker, too, here:

Q: What are the school system outputs that matter most to you?
How will you be accountable for them as a member of the Board of Education? What goals or measurements will you use to evaluate your performance on the Board of Education?

A: I don’t like to use the term ‘outputs’ when it comes to education as it connotes factories and widgets not schools and human beings.

My goal is that our students develop an enduring love of learning, that they accrue basic skills to prepare them for college and career, and that they develop the means to lead a meaningful life of reasonable prosperity and self-sufficiency.

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