Flowers thrives on bringing people, community together

Published 10:29 am Monday, December 5, 2016

When she looks at the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, Jane Flowers sees an organization that can be the incubator for improving the area by bringing people together and encouraging discussion and participation in the community.

“To me, the Chamber is the living room of the community,” she said. “It’s a place where we can get together, talk about issues, encourage people to come to our meetings and promote our members.”

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A fourth generation Warren County resident, Flowers has been involved with the Chamber and some of its satellite organizations since she began teaching marketing at Hinds Community College’s Vicksburg Campus after graduating from Mississippi State University.

“I can remember my first year teaching in 1975, or either the second years in 1976, and actually visiting the Chamber to get some statistics and information about this community for a project my student were working on. That was when the Chamber of Commerce was in an old building Skippy Tuminello had renovated on Monroe Street,” she said.

“I was an active member of the job fair committee for probably about 13 years, I guess, through my work at Hinds. I also at one time chaired the Economic Development Foundation, which was all run out of this building (on Mission 66) with the Chamber of Commerce.”

She left teaching to raise her children, taking her away from Hinds and the Chamber for nine years before Hinds called her back to teach a course in tourism and hospitality, putting her in touch with the business community and the Chamber.

“Half the day, I would teach, and then the rest of the day I would be out working with business and industry, talking with business about students, and taking our students and placing our students (in jobs),” she said.

“I taught tourism and hospitality to high school students. I taught that for four years, and then there was the School to Work (program) push with federal government. They changed positions at Hinds and they had a position open called work-based learning. I had that position. I was placing high school students, but this time, it wasn’t just in marketing, it was all our career technical students.” Flowers would take students whose teachers thought were work ready, to local industries and help place them with a job. She also met monthly with a program advisory board to discuss the program.

“It was the most rewarding experience,” she said.

The program, however, as far as helping high school students, was later discontinued by the state.

About that time the director’s position at the Chamber became vacant.

“Somebody sent me this job description and said, ‘Jane, you’d be good at this you love people.’ I had been reading books about retirement. I took it on as a challenge, and I sent in my application. It was the first time I had sent in an application since I got out of high school,” she said. “So I went through the interview process and got selected for the job.

When Flowers first arrived at the chamber, she began reading through several books on the Chamber’s history.

“In 1895, it was organized as the board of trade of the city of Vicksburg, and the several times, it’s changed its name until it became the Chamber,” she said. “When you look back at some of these things — I saw all many of the things we have today that are self-sustaining organizations were formed as committees on the Chamber of Commerce who took an interest in helping this community.

“It kind of gave me more impetus here at the Chamber as the director. The chamber of commerce is not about the director, the Chamber of Commerce is about business people, the members getting organized and making a difference in the community, using their talents and their gifts.

“I realized at the time they had to come and meet and organize as a group, and to lend their expertise has certainly helped our community, and we need that continued participation.

Economic development, fundraising programs were developed back then. Those people got things done; it was just people getting together and getting things done.

“I want to make a difference in the community.”

Besides her position as Chamber director, Flowers is also a member of the Warren County Historical Society, the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Vicksburg Heritage Guild.

“In my role in the Chamber, I think it is important to know things, and I think that is one of the most important things I’ve learned working at the chamber, is we have such a strength in all our organizations, and the people in them,” she said. “They all work so hard, and to me, that’s been so enlightening to see from a big community perspective.”

She said the direction of the Chamber in the future will depend “on how we organize and how people step up to the plate and give of themselves and look at the big picture and see where we need to go.”

When she became director, she said, one her first priorities was increasing membership.

“We needed to get more members, because the way we pay for ourselves is through membership,” she said.

“I was so surprised when I got here that so many people I’ve done business with over the years were not Chamber members,” she said. “We had people here who did not support this organization; that surprised me, but then I learned there were people who had supported it for years. Many of them are may be to busy to come (to Chamber events), but they sent their resources.”

One thing she has done to promote membership and highlight members, Flowers said, was design a placemat used at all Chamber luncheons that displayed the members’ names, “So people can see who are supporting this community in one way or the other.”

Flowers is interested in improving education, adding, “I believe in high standards and I believe in taking every child as far as we can take them and giving them opportunities. And I believe in putting them out in business and industry to work.”

At one point, she said, “I was one of the biggest skeptics about the Leader In Me Program, but after watching it work, I’m its biggest cheerleader.”

Besides education, she said, the Chamber supports small business and tries to hold programs at times when small business owners can attend. She has also had the city’s assets mapped on the Mississippi Development Authority’s website, adding, “We’ve got to play on our strengths in this community.

“I welcome other people’s sides (opinions),” Flowers said. “ We can improve. We’re not perfect, but we need to know what do we need to do to improve, and let’s talk about those things.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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