NATCHEZ — Heading the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce will be a cinch for Laura Ann Godfrey.
Godfrey, a longtime Natchez resident who was named president and CEO of the 400-plus member chamber Nov. 15 after a lengthy search, previously served as the Natchez Convention & Visitors Bureau Director of Public Relations/Media and Natchez Film Commissioner.
“The board of directors wanted someone to reorganize the chamber and raise the bar, so they took their time interviewing to make sure they had what they wanted,” said Godfrey, who has 10 years of experience in marketing and tourism management for the river city. “A few new projects were already on the plate when I came in, but nothing too complex. We’ve kept programs that were successful and now we’re creating new ones. We want to look at all the committees and establish benchmarks so we can measure our success at the end of the year. The goal is to be a more active resource for our members. We have a great, strong board that really wants stronger communication and I’m going to help them meet that goal.”
Godfrey said the job entails the same basic duties as her former position — promoting Natchez.
“The difference between being with the chamber in a tourism town as opposed to one in a non-tourism town is that there’s a little more marketing required because of the benefits of tourism to the town’s businesses,” she said. “This year, we’ve developed a budget for marketing and media for the chamber that we haven’t had before, so I’m excited about the possibilities.”
The budget calls for a new ambassador program, a public relations arm of the membership development division, Godfrey explained.
“Their goal will be to welcome new members and help them get oriented and involved in the chamber and encourage on-going contact with existing members,” she said. “We’re having a kickoff luncheon (mid-January). Our first quarter project will be Operation Thank You, where we’re going to have our ambassadors visit existing members — a pretty big project since we have over 400 members, including members in Vidalia, La. Another project is our first business-to-business expo, which we’ll host at the new convention center April 11. We’re also inviting the public to come in and tour the center and see how the different meeting rooms will work for them.”
Education and transportation issues will get the most attention, Godfrey said.
“We want to get very active with our public school system and support them any way we can, from job shadowing to School-to-Careers grant,” she said. “Education and economic development go hand in hand.”
Being off the beaten path has been a challenge attracting business and industry because of the city’s lack of interstate access, but Highway 61 is on the fast track for four-lane completion and former Natchez Mayor Larry Brown, now executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, is rallying support to enhance transportation for Natchez.
“We have a wonderful port facility and airport that can accommodate any size plane,” she said. “We also have a new EDA director who’s doing a tremendous job. We’re working together for more economic stability and progress.”
For broader visibility, board members are mulling over the option to move the chamber to the new convention center on Main Street, which will be finished in April, Godfrey said.
“We’re in a wonderful building, but we have trouble with visibility so we’re looking at the potential of moving there,” Godfrey said.
A native of Collins, Godfrey grew up in Hattiesburg, and studied at the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Mississippi before she moved to Natchez 18 years ago. “Now it’s home,” she said.
She and her husband, Ed Godfrey, a petroleum geologist, live in the river city with their 15-year old son, Will.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org</a.