For multiple generations, Renee Bland and her family have been involved with business in Lawrence County. Now, Bland is putting that experience to work for the entire business community as the new executive director of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce.
She is joined at the chamber office by Anita Davidson, another veteran of local business, who recently began serving as office manager. The Chamber’s board of directors also has a new chair for 2021, Lawrence Health CEO Josh Conlee.
“I have spent my entire life immersed in both the joys and challenges of running small businesses,” Bland said. “I grew up here knowing the rich history of our business community and of the Chamber of Commerce and the power it has to both influence and reflect our community. The Chamber and its members have been a part of many good things for our county over the years.”
The lifelong Walnut Ridge resident has seen local business from several sides.
“Just in my lifetime, both sets of my grandparents were retail business owners in downtown Walnut Ridge,” she said. “My father is a retired pharmacist, and he, along with my mother, were former owners of Sexton Pharmacy, and my husband and in-laws were longtime owners of The Times Dispatch.”
Bland’s role as executive director is to oversee the day-to-day operation and activities of the Chamber, while Davidson’s duties include carrying out the financial responsibilities of the Chamber, as well as other office functions. With the pandemic limiting Bland’s ability to get out of the office, the two are taking this time to focus on getting organized, getting familiar with office procedures and responsibilities, and updating the membership roster.
“The Chamber helps to organize and lead activities and promotions to help encourage businesses and growth, ultimately working to improve the quality of life in Lawrence County,” Bland said. “It’s exciting to be a part of the business community and to interact with people who believe in the future of Lawrence County and who want to help make it better.”
Bland holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism, with an emphasis in public relations, and a master’s in sociology, both from Arkansas State University.
Davidson, who attended Black River Technical College, is an Imboden resident who has lived in Lawrence County for the past 45 years. She recently retired as office manager at Smith Mayfield LLC, after 24 years with the accounting firm.
“After 24 years, I was ready for a change and this opportunity would allow me to remain active in the community and still have time to enjoy the little things in life,” Davidson said. “I hope to be able to give the board members the necessary information to make their operational decisions and assist the executive director in restoring and improving the community development programs.”
Conlee will serve as board chair for the coming year, and he previously was involved with the Batesville Chamber of Commerce. His vision for the Lawrence County Chamber will be laid out in more detail in coming weeks.
The new leadership takes the helm of a Chamber that has notched a number of successes, both recently and in the past.
“Along with the city, the Chamber has been successfully involved in the recruitment of industry over the years, including the recent relocation of Eleven-Point Candles in the former Jones & Vining building, which was owned by the Chamber,” Bland noted.
“The Chamber also helps to sponsor festivals, such as Beatles at the Ridge, hosts business and ag expos and annually recognizes deserving community leaders and volunteers,” she said. “As the sayings go, we are stronger when we are united and we can accomplish much more by working together than by working independently of one another.”