The Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, a period during which the city has brought in major corporations and jobs along with cultivating a thriving small business and entrepreneurial environment.

The chamber today touts roughly 650 members and continues to work hand-in-hand with the city on its economic development initiatives.

Mayor Keith McDonald owned a Bartlett business, McDonald Insurance and Financial Services, during the late 1970s and was a member of the Bartlett Businessman’s Association (BBA).

Oscar Yates, the city’s mayor at the time, had heard of something in Nashville called the ThreeStar Program for rural community development, and he tasked McDonald with going there to find more about it.

“I went up and talked with our then-state Rep. Harold Byrd and the ECD (economic development) people, and they said it looked like the only thing we were missing from being able to join the program was a legitimate chamber of commerce,”  McDonald said.

Upon his return and subsequent discussions with the BBA members, the group changed in 1980 into a chamber. The move made it open to all businesses, and the organization hired its first part-time employee. In 1984, the chamber reorganized and hired its first full-time employee, Sue Griffith. She is now Sue Coleman.

“Sue and I went around and visited with other chambers and saw how they were doing things and how they were recruiting businesses, and we took a look at what we were missing at the time,” said McDonald, who remembers when there was just a McDonald’s and a Kentucky Fried Chicken along with the Bank of Bartlett in town.

During her time at the chamber, there was an emphasis on expanding the city’s amenities in order to make it a more complete city, with the Bartlett Recreation center and Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center as well as multiple movie theaters opening in the mid- to late 1990s.

The chamber started Leadership Bartlett in 1990 and Youth Leadership Bartlett in 1998, along with the Bartlett Education Foundation the same year, and the BACC was responsible for starting the city’s Christmas parade before the city took over duties.

“We started a number of things because we thought Bartlett needed them,” Coleman said. “We just have a great city. It doesn’t have the divisiveness that other communities have, and it’s given the city an opportunity to grow and flourish through the years.”

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