The chamber also took the opportunity to announce its Buy Bartow campaign. Chamber of Commerce Interim President Joe Frank Harris Jr. said the campaign's initial goal is to put 500 people to work, which would be a 1 percent increase in employment.
"There is $1,090,000,000 worth of salaries and wages paid in Bartow County every year. Turn that engine into Bartow, Buy Bartow, those monies turn around three times, four times, five times, six times -- that's a lot of weddings, that's a lot of events," he said.
The chamber will ring the bell at the former First Baptist Church in downtown each time someone is hired in Bartow and will keep track of the total using an United Way thermometer.
Harris said the idea came out of the chamber's tradition of ringing a bell each time it gains a new member.
"I think sometimes the good Lord wakes you up in the middle of the night, and I'm thinking, 'Where is there a bigger bell?' And I realized when I was a boy I remembered seeing that bell up in the old First Baptist Church, and so I sheepishly kinda went over to Commissioner [Clarence] Brown and said, 'We got something extra special going on. Can we ring the bell?'" he said, adding that Brown agreed and renovation work began immediately.
The repairs to the brass bell, which was created by the McNeely Foundry in New York, have included restoring ropes, wheels and pullies.
"It's been rung a lot of times. There's been victories throughout the years and this will be one more time," Harris said.
In conjunction with Manufacturing Appreciation Week, the first ringing ceremony will take place Wednesday, April 13, at noon. Harris, who said "we're gonna close the street down," explained business owners and officials will ring the bell in 15-minute increments, along with local mayors and the commissioner signing proclamations.
Joe Honeycutt with Holiday Inn, a chamber and BBC member, said buying locally begins by thinking about what is best for the community. "I think it's important to have everybody thinking about what makes sense for the community. And it doesn't make sense for us to go to Kennesaw, Cobb County, when we got things right here. We've got good restaurants here, we've got good shops here. Everything you need is right here."
Thursday's event, the first of its kind, was a reminder to many that networking is vital to small businesses.
"If you're a new business owner, you haven't come to one of these and you're here now with, what 300, 400 people, you realize the benefits of networking," said Frank Cipolla Jr. with Northside Business Connection and owner of Common Sense Computers. "Your businesses that have been here awhile and are struggling like the rest of us, they may not have considered networking to be advantageous, but you can't help but feel the energy in the room."
Tara Currier, Booth director of marketing, said just after 5:30 p.m. that roughly 300 people had passed through the doors and 600 were expected by the end.
Harris said awareness is one of the goals of the chamber, as well as the local networking groups. "The main thing is, we need to educate the people as to what goods and services are available in Bartow County. If you cut us, we all bleed Bartow County so get out there and let people know what you have because they want to buy locally."
The Buy Bartow campaign will continue until officials decide the goal has been met, although Harris said that may never happen.
"What is our goal? Zero would be our goal. We want to put everybody to work. ... When we get through with that first thermometer, you put the next one up there and the next one up there and the next one up there. You don't stop till it's done," he said.
Those who have added employees since Jan. 1 are encouraged to call the chamber to take part in the April 13 bell-ringing.
The chamber will "go to the dogs" April 21 at Dellinger Park. The event will benefit the Etowah Valley Humane Society, and pets are welcome.
For more information on Buy Bartow or the EVHS fundraiser, call the chamber at 770-382-1466.