After three and a half years, Julie Bolender is leaving her position as President of the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce.
“Julie has done an incredible job during her tenure as President of the Chamber,” said Dr. Tom Bailey, Chairman of the Board, “from increasing membership and corporate investors of the Chamber each year, to offering members a full spectrum of support and services, as well as growing our many events and bringing thousands of patrons to Fayette County each year, she has led our Chamber exceptionally.”
Bolender recently accepted a position in her hometown of Hillsboro, Ohio, as the Economic Director of Highland County.
While President, the Chamber grew to over 300 members, a diverse association from the many locally-owned businesses and regional employers, to community organizations and religious institutions, as well as many agricultural operations across the county.
In its 75th year of existence, the mission of the local Chamber of Commerce is “to advance the civic, economic and social welfare of the people of Fayette County.”
As the President of the Chamber, Bolender acts as a liaison and advocate for local businesses and organizations to various government agencies. Building partnerships with the City of Washington Court House and Fayette County, the Chamber has created many initiatives to bring qualified candidates into the local workforce.
From helping create the first commitment letter signing days with graduating seniors to local employers, to building a strong relationship with the Small Business Development Center and the Community Improvement Corporation, as well as networking opportunities through after-hour events and trade shows, Bolender has helped find creative ways to build and recruit a qualified workforce in Fayette County.
During Bolender’s tenure as President, the Chamber’s many local community and civic events also saw exponential growth.
Kicking off the year, the Groundhog’s Day Breakfast has grown to over 400 attendees, celebrating the community’s local business and agricultural strength of the county. Featuring guest speakers, a full meal, and the occasional celebrity groundhog appearance, this fun event celebrates the hopefully soon arrival of spring in Fayette County.
Each April, member businesses and organizations have the opportunity to celebrate Administrative Professionals Day by sending their appreciated assistance to a luncheon at the Chamber where they can enjoy a relaxing afternoon as well as have many opportunities to earn prizes from various local businesses.
In one of the largest events of the year, the Chamber officially kicks off summer in the community Fayette County’s Toast to Summer and Hot Air Balloon Glow. Partnering with the Fayette County Pilots and Friends Association and Fayette County Travel and Tourism, this landmark event brings over 6,000 attendees from multiple states to enjoy an evening of wine tasting, art show, local food vendors, beer garden, live music, bi-plane rides, fireworks, and ends with an impressive hot air balloon glow.
Each year during the Fair, the Chamber teams up with the Fayette Agricultural Society and Travel and Tourism to present “A Night at the Races,” with exciting harness racing in the historic grandstands. As the event has outgrown the night, the festivities will now be known as “Community Day at the Races,” with dachshund races beginning at noon, followed by horses at 4:00 PM through the evening.
To start the school year off on the right path, the Chamber hosts their annual scholarship golf outing on the first Friday of September, raising thousands of dollars in proceeds to benefit many graduating seniors of Washington High School, Miami Trace, and Fayette Christian.
The Chamber closes out the calendar year with a busy Thanksgiving weekend in Small Business Saturday and the annual Christmas Parade.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Fayette County joins small communities across the country to celebrate “Small Business Saturday.” As an approved partner with American Express, the Chamber utilizes the platform initiative campaign throughout the month of November to promote “shopping small” for the holidays.
“We want our community to know that the majority of the gifts they are looking to purchase can be found at a locally-owned business in Fayette County,” explained Bolender. “From retail shopping, to services and restaurants, there is a gift for everyone on your list right here.”
Door prizes are given away throughout Small Business Saturday, many valued at over $1,000, to encourage people to shop in the variety of stores across the community.
“It’s a great day where our local businesses come together to promote each other and promote Fayette County as a whole.”
The Chamber’s year of events ends with the annual Christmas parade, featuring floats from organizations across the community, local school marching bands, and Santa Claus. Families now have the opportunity to get their picture taken with Santa at the Chamber office during the day’s winter festivities.
As Bolender lead events pulling thousands of eventgoers to patronize the businesses and organizations of Fayette County, she has also continued to offer robust educational, networking, and sponsorship opportunities, provide access to member-only programs and discounts, lead safety council, and provide group rating discounts for health insurance and Workers’ Compensation.
“Providing insurance to employees as a small business can be a difficult and costly process,” explained Bolender, “so we offer our members the ability to provide insurance through a Chamber group rate, making their jobs more enticing to prospective employees.”
Bolender’s work with the Safety Council and Bureau of Workers Compensation allows local members who attend monthly meeting edibility to receive reduction in workers comp insurance premiums. This not only provides another cost-saving measure to assist locally-owned businesses, but also strengthens the workplace conditions and safety of local employees.
Celebrating its Semisesquicentennial, the Chamber took on a new role in supporting the business community this year. As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on small businesses across the world, the Chamber’s President aggressively sought ways and opportunities to help the members navigate the unprecedented times.
“Julie went above and beyond through her role as Chamber President to support Fayette County during this past year’s hardships,” stated Dr. Bailey, “she was integral in keeping our community safe and supported.”
“A lot of newsletters were sent,” laughed Bolender, “I attended as many information sessions from the state and federal government, as well as dove into the pages and pages of written orders to find how they would affect our members and community, as well as what resources and opportunities were available.”
Since the initial shutdowns, Bolender sent over 100 updates to the Chamber members. This succinct newsletter featured information on what health orders to follow, how to operate safely, and provide grant and loan opportunities so they could continue to survive during shutdowns.
In addition to information, Bolender assisted county leadership in driving COVID-19 relief funding directly back into the community.
As CARES Act funding became available, Fayette County Commissioners and City Manager Joe Denen implemented a local grant program to facilitate the distribution of funds. Along with other members of the Community Improvement Corporation, Bolender assisted the local officials in distributing grant dollars that were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown.
“Both the county and city knew the importance of supporting our local businesses during these incredibly hard times,” said Bolender.
In addition to funding, the Chamber partnered with the City to institute a supply share program. This program gave small businesses that did not meet the operation size requirements the ability to receive masks, hand sanitizer, and other necessary PPE to operate their business in accordance to health directives.
After three and a half years at the helm of the Chamber, Bolender is leaving Fayette County to reignite the economic development office of Highland County as its director, a position that has gone unfilled since 2008.
“It was not an easy decision,” explained Bolender, “I truly loved my time here at the Chamber and with Fayette County.”
“I don't know how to put into words how grateful I am for the opportunity I have had for the last three and a half years,” continued Bolender, “the support I have received from the board, our membership, and the community was the catalyst behind everything we accomplished as a team.”
Bolender’s last day as the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce President is Friday, May 14th.
“Julie has been a blessing for the businesses and community,” said Bailey, “while we hate to see her go, we are excited to see continue to do great things in Highland County and across southern Ohio.”
Dr. Bailey said the Chamber board is moving swiftly to hire a new president so the Chamber can continue to offer services and support to its members and the community without interruption.
For those interested in applying for the position of President, individuals must send or drop off their resume, cover letter, and professional references at the Chamber main office downtown at 206 E Court Street.