​South Cumberland Chamber of Commerce Welcomes New Director

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

“My ultimate goal is to raise the community’s standard of living,” said John Payne, the new executive director of the South Cumberland Chamber of Commerce.
Payne, who took office on Jan. 9, will look to the strategic plan drafted in 2016 for guidance. Top on initiatives called for by the plan was changing the name of the organization from the Monteagle Mountain Chamber of Commerce to the South Cumberland Chamber of Commerce. The name change reflects the chamber’s intention to broaden its service area and adopt an all-encompassing strategy for economic development.
“Located in three counties, Monteagle is the gateway to a number of other communities on the plateau,” Payne said. The new website lists the chamber’s service area as Monteagle, Sewanee, Tracy City, Coalmont, Altamont, Beersheba Springs, Gruetli-Laager, Pelham and Palmer.
Payne sees the challenges facing the chamber as the same challenges the community faces. “As is typical in small communities confronted with limited resources and lack of funding, our most talented young people grow up and move away. Our task is to provide opportunities to keep them here.”
Payne brings a wealth of experience to the role of chamber executive director. During the course of the past 45 years, his career in the manufacturing industry and economic development placed him in a position where he either served on or interacted directly with chamber boards.
Born and raised in Wisconsin and graduating from Wisconsin University with a B.S. in Business Administration, in 1980 Payne accepted the challenge of Wisconsin-based Monterey Mills to oversee the start up of a 150-person manufacturing facility in Cowan, Tenn. He continued at the Cowan plant as technical operations manager until the facility closed in 2002.
Taking a position as Regional Economic Development Specialist with the Tenn. Department of Economic and Community Development, Payne worked directly with local economic development professionals and chamber boards assisting with industry recruitment and retention programs.
When a position opened as Executive Director of the Franklin County Industrial Development Board (FCIDB), Payne welcomed the opportunity to move back to the area from his regional office in Cookeville. As FCIDB director from 2005-2011, Payne recruited six new industries which located in Franklin County resulting in over 220 new jobs.
When funding dried up for the FCIDB, Payne assumed a similar role as executive director of the Rhea County Economic and Tourism Council working to provide financial incentives for new industry and partnering with local chambers to create a tourism development program.
Payne cites tourism and the University of the South as assets not yet tapped to their maximum potential. “For the University to grow and thrive is a tremendous asset to the community,” Payne said.
He stressed the importance of keeping money in the community by promoting businesses that provide for the needs of the community.
He also pointed to the importance of pursuing economic development born from a recognition and reverence for the region’s heritage.
A personal task he’s set for himself is to identify a method to measure the chamber’s progress.
“It’s important to quantify the work you do,” Payne said, “to demonstrate to those you want to engage what they can expect to get back.”
Payne welcomes inquiries from individuals and businesses who have ideas to offer or who want to learn more about the Chamber’s work. To contact the South Cumberland Chamber of Commerce phone (931) 924-5353 or email <mmtnchamber@blomand.net>.