By Ashley Rader
The Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual dinner Friday night at Milligan College. The dinner was attended by numerous guests which included government leaders, community volunteers and business owners.
The theme for the evening was “20/20 Vision for the Year 2020.” Congressman Phil Roe was the guest speaker and the Chamber recognized several individuals during the night.
Roe spoke briefly at the event. He referenced his time in the Army where he served in Korea. He also discussed some of the legislation and issues facing the Congress members when they returned to session. Roe told the crowd that he recently had the opportunity to return to Korea and was able to return to the area where he served while in the Army.
“I think every veteran asks if their service made a difference,” he said. “In my situation, the answer was a resounding yes.”
He described how the country had been devastated by war before and had been under the control of a dictator. After the Korean War, the southern portion of the country is now a democracy and the country is dedicated to providing higher education opportunities for their citizens. Also, South Korea is home to the largest Christian church in the world, which is located in Seoul.
“They are willing to work hard and they have the education opportunities,” he said. “You can’t beat that combination.”
He said that Carter County was lucky to have the number of higher education institutions near it that it does, like Northeast State Community College, Tennessee Technology Center, Milligan College and East Tennessee State University. He also thanked Carter County residents for their support and noted that he had never lost an election in Carter County.
Concerning upcoming legislation, Roe said there were several important issues that would be coming before Congress when they returned to session. He discussed energy sources and said that the United States has the largest carbon reserve, consisting of coal, natural gas and oil and that North America gets 75 percent of its energy from those sources. He said energy experts agree that the United States could be energy independent in 10 years if the country put the effort into that decision.
He said the country was already making strides if producing more by using newer advanced drilling techniques which led to reduced imports. He said if the Keystone Pipeline was constructed, then 1/4 of the country’s import need would be eliminated because we would have access to more product. The pipeline would also create more jobs for the country.
He said Congress would need to make a decision on whether to extend the Bush era tax cuts. Roe remarked that if those cuts were allowed to expire it would result in the largest tax increases ever on citizens. Another decision is on the inheritance tax. If the tax is changed, it will increase from a 35 percent tax to a 55 percent tax. There will also be decisions that will affect Medicare recipients, unemployment benefits and the payroll tax extension. Leaders will also have to deal with a budget that is continually accruing a deficit.
“It is a big hole we have dug,” Roe said. “If we did away with everything elective in the budget we would still have a deficit.”
He also addressed the upcoming Supreme Court decision on the “Obamacare” act. He said the decision will determine the constitutionality of the health care act and whether it can continue. He said the health care act would make it harder, more bureaucratic and more expensive to see a doctor and would not improve the care the patient received.
“If we don’t lower the cost of health care, no one will be able to afford it,” Roe said. “It is my opinion that only doctors, patients and their families should be making their health care decisions. That is not something the government or insurance companies need to be involved in.”
He closed by saying he believed the country would come out of these hard times OK because of the citizens and their desire to make things better.
Chamber of Commerce President Richard Tester presented Roe with a commemorative ink pen made from the original wood in the Covered Bridge. The ink pen was hand crafted from the support beam that was installed in the bridge when it was constructed 130 years ago.
The Chamber recognized Mike Barnett as Citizen of the Year. Barnett is owner of Big John’s Closeouts which has a location in Elizabethton and in Mountain City. He purchased Big John’s Closeouts in 2011 and employs around 20 people at the two sites.
He is also involved with the Abortion Alternatives and Women’s Center, the Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park and the outdoor drama “Liberty!,” the Elizabethton Carter County Animal Shelter Building Committee and Advisory Committee, East Tennessee Spay and Neuter, the Downtown Business Association and the Veteran’s War Memorial Oversight Committee.
Barnett is active in his church, Fairview Baptist in Watauga. He is active in the AWANA Program, is a deacon and a choir member and also drives the church van. He moved to Carter County from Western North Carolina with his family when he was a young child. He first lived in Roan Mountain and then in Stoney Creek.
“Mike is an exemplary servant leader,” Tester said. “He is always there to help and always acts in a Christlike manner.
Barnett was surprised by the award and said he was humbled to be selected as Citizen of the Year.
“The people in this room are my neighbors, customers and friends,” he said. “They are my comrades in the battle to move forward with economic development and to make a difference in the community. I try to live by my mother’s advice. She always told me to have a positive attitude. She said you could spend time complaining about something but nothing was going to change unless you wanted to get out there and work to make a difference.”
He said everyone in the room was blessed with their own gifts and their own spheres of influence and it was up to them to use those gifts in the best way they could.
“Sometimes the greatest gift you can give is to just be willing to help out,” he said.
Outgoing Chamber President Tester passed the gavel to President Elect Chandrea Shell. Tester remarked that he had wanted to make a positive difference in the community during his two years as president. He said since Carter County was a small community it was important to pool resources and to work together for the common good.
“If we have a common goal of helping people and spurring economic growth, we can move forward and make a positive impact on the community,” he said.
State Representative Kent Williams presented Dr. Harold Lane with a House Resolution recognizing him on his retirement. Lane was recognized for his involvement and dedication to the community. Lane has been a member of the Chamber since 1971.
The outgoing board members were also recognized. Retiring Board of Directors members were Dean Blevins, John Huber, Caroline Hurt, Frank Newman, Kathy Pierce, Jay Robbins, Courtney Valentine and Keith Whitehead.