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OAKLAND – Community leaders from Oakland and across the state joined together for the official launch of the Oakland Area Chamber of Commerce last Friday during a Holiday Open House at the Oakland Senior Citizen Building. Chamber President Linda Ross Aldy moderated the kickoff, sharing how a dream became a reality as strong support has been pledged to the new organization.
The support includes commitments from the Ed and Becky Meek Foundation, Governor Tate Reeves, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, Congressman Bennie Thompson and Mississippi Economic Council President and CEO Scott Waller. Input during the kickoff meeting included an overlapping theme – small towns are vital to Mississippi’s growth and prosperity.
“Never before is more emphasis needed on rural communities in the State of Mississippi than today,” Waller told attendees. “Unfortunately, we as a state lost population, we were one of the few states across the nation that did,” he added about the tally from the 2020 Census. “We have to make sure that our small towns survive and there is no better way than working together through an organization like the chamber of commerce to make that happen.”
The Ed and Becky Meek Foundation provided funding to get the Chamber started.
“The heart of America is small towns and that is what we are,” Ed Meek told the group as he briefly shared his connection to the community where he lived until age 10.
“I have such wonderful memories of the little yellow house right behind the Methodist Church where my mother raised us two boys when daddy was off at war. I have never forgotten the foundation that Oakland gave me. We are honored to help,” he told the group.
Support from Congressman Thompson was pledged by his Field Representative from the Marks office, Sandra Jamison.
“Anything that the Congressman can do at the federal level, he will do it,” Jamison told the group. “People don’t always agree but we want to work together. It is time for us, as people, to come together.”
Aldy also shared other input from state leaders who were unable to attend the kickoff.
“The Lt. Governor wants the community to know that his office is available and open to us. They will do whatever they can to help support us,” Aldy said, referencing a letter from Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann.
She also recalled details from a recent visit with Governor Tate Reeves.
“He thinks small town revitalization is the key to success in this state. He offered the resources of his office. For a little town, we have gotten some big folks to say they are going to work with us. We are going to take them up on those offers.”
Grass Roots Support
“If you have ever lived here, you know it is in your blood… I wanted to think about a way to give back,” Aldy shared about her deep roots in the community that prompted her to help launch the chamber. She added that the rollout was initially scheduled in 2022 following retirement from her longtime paid job, but strong support helped expedite it. This included members of the Oakland Beautification Committee who embraced the new organization – Alisia Bland and Stephanie Patterson.
“I could not have asked for better friends or better cohorts in trying to pull this together,” Aldy added. “It has been so powerful, we feel like this is the right time, the right place and the right people coming together for this,”
Bland next provided details about the Chamber’s membership drive, reporting they will seek a diverse membership ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.
Patterson shared information about a Chamber survey to help identify short-term and long-term goals for the new organization.
“The survey responses will go a long ways to shaping the Chamber and determining the needs of the businesses,” Patterson told the group.
Aldy will serve as president, Bland as vice-president and Patterson as secretary-treasurer for the first year. Other board members who will serve during the inaugural year are Rev. Carolyn Jones, Allen Welch, Michael Gray, Joy Mullins and Stephanie Patterson.
The Chamber office will be located in the old Presbyterian Church adjacent to the library.