Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 91st annual banquet, which was also its first hybrid event, on Tuesday.
The banquet took place with social distancing and safety measures in place at John Brown University's Simmons Great Hall and was also streamed live online for those who would rather attend virtually.
Pioneer Citizens Craig Taylor and John and Kathy Turner were honored during the evening.
In addition, Katie Rennard was presented with the Outstanding Civic Leadership Award. The award, for people who represent all things Siloam Springs, is typically presented at a roast and toast in the fall, but the presentation was postponed because of the covid-19 pandemic.
Outgoing board chair James Barnett passed the reins to incoming chair Jimmy Allen during the event. Allen presented the event's theme of "Bridging the Gap."
Bridges are very important pieces of society and of the economy, he said. While people often drive over bridges without noticing, if they were all gone or destroyed, it would become very difficult or impossible to get across the expanses.
"A great chamber is like a bridge in our local economy," he said. "It crosses expanses that we would not be able to cross or would be very costly and time consuming to cross if we could. We are blessed to have an incredible chamber of commerce here in Siloam Springs."
Allen said that he is constantly finding new benefits the chamber offers its members, such as marketing opportunities, networking events, business support, business recruitment into the community, legislative advocacy, economic and community development, continuing education, volunteer opportunities, and events such as the Dogwood Festival, the banquet and the Chamber Challenge Golf Tournament.
"We lived the last year of our lives living six feet apart so my encouragement this year is that we all come together and spend 2021 bridging the gap," Allen said.
Chamber President and CEO Arthur Hulbert reported that Chamber membership is up, debt on the building is down, cash on hand is up and expenses are down.
The Chamber's role is to promote, connect, educate and applicate, he said. Some of the achievements of the past year include helping 10 new businesses start with the required state and federal paperwork, starting a scholarship foundation for women and minorities, changing the Chamber website to be multilingual, focusing on economic development, and opening the new maker space.
The vision for Siloam Springs is for the town to be a premier place for people to live, start a business and grow a family, he said. The community offers excellent health care, great public schools and a world class private Christian university, he said. Even last year, during the pandemic, new businesses were started and new products were developed, he said.
"In conclusion, in 2020, the year of covid, we definitely proved we are better together," Hulbert said. "And I'm excited as we continue that theme in relation to building bridges together in 2021, I expect some amazing, great things to come."