story and photos by Miranda Osborn-Sutphen
Ten years ago Pam Southard moved to a sleepy little town called Pooler, Georgia from her home state of Maryland. She and her husband wanted warmer weather and NO snow. She got a “very” part time job with the Pooler Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, Inc., working 15 hours a week as the office assistant. Seven years later – of which Southard has been Executive Director for five – and her Chamber career is still going strong, helped along with a team of four other amazing individuals. “I never would have thought that I would end up in this position,” reminisces Southard, “but here I am full time and loving every minute of it.”
Between them, the ladies that take care of the public, visitors, problem solving, and just about everything that the Chamber has at its doorstep have a combined 50-plus years of experience. “There’s somebody here that’s going to be able to figure it out, no matter what the problem,” Southard explains.
When Southard started, the Chamber had 90 members. Today, that tally stands at 420. “That shows you not only the growth of Pooler, but the hard work of everyone from the Chamber, to the Board of Directors to Ambassadors. They’re all such an important part of this,” she adds.
The Pooler Chamber is committed to responsible development that will enrich the city of Pooler for future generations, and has been presenting new opportunities for their members, as well as the residents of Pooler since it’s inception eight years ago. It serves to provide the platform of growth necessary for the area to truly flourish.
From its humble beginnings as a little railroad town, Pooler has now become a destination city and home to those that want the small town feel, southern charm and the convenience of urban amenities and with countless events planned and community driven projects in the works, the future seems brighter than ever.
“Our goal is to bring more tourist opportunities to Pooler,” Southard explains. “We were not a destination city three years ago. We are now. We’ve got four new hotels coming down the pipe… that’s just amazing!”
The Chamber achieves this by supporting the community and its members every way it can. Events throughout the year increase the networking potential for all members, and also provides community involvement. Annual events such as the Chamber’s Hearts for Heroes Gala, St. Patrick’s Celebration shuttle service, Tastes of Pooler, Sip and Savor and Business After Hours continue to put the focus on Pooler, their members and the Chamber.
“Look where we were when I moved here 10 years ago and look where we are now!” Southard exclaims. “Tanger, restaurants, movie theatres… everything at our doorstep. I just love being involved with the businesses as they come to the area.”
When folks or corporate calls come into the Chamber, it’s Southard and her team’s responsibility to entice them to “get in while the getting’s good. Land is going to be short one day, it’s getting that way now,” Southard continues, “especially if you look at the development on Pooler Parkway. It was all one side, now it’s expanding by Savannah Quarters near I-16 and we have a micro hospital coming… that just blows my mind.”
Southard’s job isn’t all roses, however, and the team does get their share of complaints as well. From residents asking “when are they going to stop?” or “where are the trees going?” But Southard’s responses are always concise and thoughtful. “How often do you go to Tanger?” she may ask, instead of having to go downtown. Or when your families come in where do they stay? They have to look at both sides, and I respect both sides,” Southard continues, and “taxes are kept low because of the growth in Pooler, so it’s a win-win, you just have to take a step back and look at it from both perspectives.”
For Southard, however, what has had the most impact on her career and time with the Chamber is seeing the growth of Pooler and working with the girls that are part of the team. Their mission is to promote Pooler as a tourist destination whilst promoting a positive business environment by supporting economic development through networking, teamwork, and innovative thinking. And for the foreseeable future the organization will continue to do just that; with their dedication to aggressively market Pooler’s assets, maximizing economic impact while providing excellent visitors services.