Harris described his initial reaction as "humbly excited" as he looks forward to attaining goals and reaching objectives. Goals include increasing membership, improving organizational finances and, most importantly for Harris, making a difference in the community.
"I don't think there's ever been a job I've wanted more or I've felt more responsible to do a good job at because I just love Bartow County so much and there's so much to do," Harris said. "The chamber is a great place to bring the community together. It's a positive force."
The selection committee met Monday to interview three finalists. After coming to a unanimous decision, the committee put their nomination before the board of directors Wednesday. Chair of the selection committee and Chamber Chairman-Elect Bruce Thompson commented on the characteristics that set Harris apart from the competition. Those named by Thompson include a passion for people, job performance, ability to influence community stakeholders, established relationships and an understanding of current opportunities.
"It has a lot to do with performance on a relationship basis as well as a business basis," Thompson said of Harris' selection. "When Joe came in, he had to immediately dig in and the membership has radically increased since he came in in February. ... Perception of the chamber, I believe, has never been as high as it is, internally and externally.
"He clearly has a passion for people and for this chamber."
Harris is a Bartow County native, graduating in 1982 from Cartersville High School and continuing at the University of Georgia, where he obtained degrees in finance and law. He practiced law in Atlanta before returning to Cartersville to do the same. For the past 10 years, Harris has been employed with Aflac, resigning Wednesday from his position as regional sales coordinator to accept the chamber position. In 1997, Harris served the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce as chairman of the board and reflects on his time with a sense of accomplishment.
During his time as interim president, Harris said his love for the community has grown, and although he did not accept the temporary position with the intention of staying, he's excited for the opportunity to continue chamber initiatives, including his reinvention of the Buy Bartow campaign with a goal of seeing 500 new hires in the county.
"Buy Bartow has so much left to be done. It's starting to make a difference, we're about to hit the 500 mark, but there's still a lot of work left to be done," Harris said. "When you see the need and you start to see that you're making a difference, people are getting excited and people are getting hired -- it's been very gratifying.
"We just have to always strive to stay relevant and stay beneficial to our community."