The Covington Chamber of Commerce has one steady motto that’s helped it through some of its toughest times and its best times, “we can do this.”
After 27 years, chamber members feel they are back at the top of its game. Executive Director Jennifer Liggett began her job just over two years ago. Before then she wasn’t a member of a chamber but worked for one of the chairmen of the board.
“I got a call one day saying ‘Hey we think you’d be a great fit for the chamber,’ so here I am,” Liggett said.
The role of executive director, the only paid position in the chamber, is a unique position since the chamber is one of the oldest official city entities. The chamber incorporated on July 2, 1992. The city itself didn’t incorporate until Aug. 30, 1997.
“This is something that I’ve been actively working on, because I, myself have been wondering (about the chamber’s history),” Liggett said. “Some of the original board members are passing away, so getting some of the information is tricky. But it formed primarily because every single business representative here had a deep passion, and commitment, to Covington itself. And they wanted to make sure Covington wasn’t swallowed up by surrounding communities. They wanted its own identity. And they wanted a camaraderie with fellow business men and women.”
Since its inception, the chamber survived some key moments, including some tough times.
“Like any chamber we’ve survived some trying times,” Liggett said. “Along with recessions and competitive businesses. Through it all, something all the past directors noted is ‘we’ve survived.’ They kept one overall phrase I kept reading, which is ‘We can do this!’”
The chamber has seen a waves of high and low numbers of members in the past 27 years. In 1992 the chamber started with 10 to 15 members, at one point near the 2000s the chamber boasted about 200 members but when Liggett came on in 2017 there were only 70 members. Liggett said many of the business members were in-home consultant or online businesses, which can explain some of the influx. In the last two years the chamber has rose to 150 members.
For Liggett, she feels the chamber is back to its roots. Part of the reason is the light-hearted fun she tries to bring to every chamber event and meeting. Being a bit of a class clown isn’t Liggett’s original idea, which she realized while diving into the history of the chamber.
During her search she stumbled on the obituary for Daniel Joseph Jenkins, the original executive director for the chamber. Jenkins died in 2009 due to a rare brain disease at the age of 76. Liggett started searching and found out Jenkins wanted the chamber to be filled with humor. He even kept red clown noses in his pocket to hand out to members, board directors and visitors.
Jean Bouffard was the person who signed the articles of incorporation, and she started the chamber with Jenkins.
“I was fascinated reading this, he was a puppeteer,” Liggett said. “They (officially) hired him in 1995 … he was the one who urged the chamber forward. He had a terrific sense of humor. He wore red noses around town and was a clown. He encouraged ambassadors to wear red noses and carried them in his pocket. He wanted people to join the chamber and realize it was a group of silly professionals, that it was welcoming and inviting. At that time they also had 150 members.”
“As I was reading this … it made me feel like we were in the right place. Since him until me, there hasn’t been this silly professional group. So I feel like we are finally back to our roots and we are moving forward,” Liggett said.
There are photos and videos to back up Liggett’s claim. Its not too hard to find a video of Liggett with the Covington City Council dressed in colorful superhero costumes, or chamber members in silly wear during its regular luncheons.
In May of 2017 the chamber became a virtual entity, and decided to go without a brick and mortar building. Since then the chamber has created better standards, policies and procedures while also staying relevant in the community. Liggett said the chamber has stopped “bleeding revenue” on rent and has focused on events, luncheons, supporting businesses and being a big part of the community.
Now the chamber is gearing up for another 20-plus years of community.
“We support local, no matter what it is, we support local economic development,” Liggett said. “We are here because the community, the (residents) here in Covington. We really, truly believe in them as individuals and in the city of Covington.”