By REID TUCKER
The Walton Area Chamber of Commerce revived the DeFuniak Springs Area Council last October as a means of getting input from north-end business owners as to their needs, wants and ideas.
Now, with more and more local events coming on-line seemingly every week, the Area Council initiative has come into its own as one of the Chamber’s best tools for taking the pulse of the local business scene. What’s more, the Council, which held its fifth meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 4, aims to get a sense of how DeFuniak’s business owners would like to see the area grow, said Chamber Director of Membership Development Camile Burlison.
“The purpose behind [the Council] is to find out how the Chamber can better service our members in this area,” she said. “It allows us to know the needs and to put together a core group of people active out in the community, so if there’s something that’s needed they can easily report it back to the Chamber. It all helps us to stay in tune with the desires and needs and issues in the area.”
Burlison and fellow board member Eric Galloway head up the Area Council initiative, which calls for monthly breakfast meetings at a member business. The aim was to build a base of contributors to the group and then expand – taking into account the different districts within the city, from downtown to the U.S. 331 corridor to north and south of the city limits. The brain-storming sessions are still growing, but Galloway said a few new people turn up at each meeting and consequently word spreads as more people become more knowledgeable about what’s going on the business community.
“We started out having our first few meetings at the Chamber office on Circle Drive, but we decided to move the meetings to different businesses around town as a means of promoting that business,” Galloway said. “This way, we can get more people in more doors. Another positive side-effect has been to encourage business owners to get more actively involved in helping out other businesses.”
At the most recent meeting the group, which included representatives from the Walton County Economic Development Alliance and the city of DeFuniak Springs, discussed how best to cross-promote their upcoming events like the Mardi Gras Parade, Marvel of Flight expo and the first annual Lakefest. Other items discussed at the meeting were hosting a semi-regular north Walton networking luncheon and promoting a business of the month. The variety of ideas brought up at the meetings is a reflection of the variety of different businesses and organizations who have participated in the Area Council, Burlison said.
“You get a glimpse of a company and you think you know everything they’re involved in, but there’s really so much more to it,” Burlison said. “It’s been truly eye-opening for me and everyone else who has participated in the Area Council so far.”
As for the future of the Area Council initiative, Burlison and Galloway were quick to point out that those plans included an expansion to Freeport and Santa Rosa Beach. Walton’s County’s disparate communities, as different geographically as they are in terms of population, have their own ideas worth bringing to the table, Burlison said.
“With our Chamber being countywide and our county being so diverse, these Area Councils are very nice because we can have one in DeFuniak, one in the south end of the county and one in Freeport,” Burlison said. “The Area Councils will help us to identify with each community.”
By REID TUCKER