Celebrating ten years at a job is amazing in itself, but I recently learned that even five years at a Chamber of Commerce is not exactly common, much less ten.
As if meant to be, the Gilmer Chamber celebrates 40 years in the same month that its President and CEO, Paige Green, achieves a milestone rarely heard of in the business, ten years as President/CEO.
The business isn’t easy, according to Green, who admits the stress can be overwhelming at times. Yet, she seems to have made a life thriving on the energy as her experience in the Chamber business extends far past just ten years. Getting a chance to sit and think back over her career is not something she has done in a while as Green smiled remembering people and mentors from the past. A thought she continues to return to as she shares her story is just how much effect one person can have on another’s life.
People like Terry Exum, a high school friend who first introduced her to the life as she told her of a job in Green’s hometown. The position was Tourism Director in Eufaula, Alabama.
Having spent a year in college studying PR and Journalism before switching to and receiving a degree in Business Management from Troy State, Green had moved on to a Masters degree as well before spending her time teaching Business Education. It was 1998 and she had just finished her first year of teaching in Grady, Alabama. It was also the point where she knew she shouldn’t be teaching. The way she recalls her time there, she admits she wasn’t the best teacher. Yet, others would disagree, people like Ruth Bodine, who has worked with Green at the Gilmer Chamber since she became President ten years ago.
As a two-man team, Bodine says it was her and Paige when she became the President. Accomplishing everything from Taste of Ellijay to the Apple Festival, Bodine says she was often asked how the two of them did it? To which she replies, “I don’t know, we just did.”
She recalls how they would relieve the mental stress, days when they would start moving furniture at 4:30 in the afternoon. Even though the day ended at 5:00, they’d still be moving furniture at 7:00 p.m.
Bodine says it was Green’s teaching that kept her at the Chamber so long, and even now as she prepares to leave the Chamber, she looks back and admits she would never have stayed so long without Paige Green.
“I could have failed,” says Bodine who added that it was always Green behind her as she worked on the databases. She taught through partnership as they both agreed they didn’t like the database at the time and had Bodine research and look for a new database. She adds that it was this type of partnership and teaching that kept her working for the Chamber all this time.
Still, Green left her teaching in Grady to return home to Eufaula and take up the mantle as Tourism Director. Nostalgia surfaces as she recalls a tiny office, one belonging to the building’s postmaster in its former life as the post office. With pride in her voice, Green says she left the sign on the door. She calls it her first “real, grown-up job.”
Though you may not be able to notice it if you know her, Green is very introverted. She calls herself a shy girl who can’t inject herself into a conversation. After nearly 20 years of work in social situations, she may have grown out of it slightly, but she says she still retreats back into herself every day. Eufaula was the beginning of a life of going against that urge.
To say she pioneered the position in Eufaula is nothing short of an understatement. Before her, it had been a part-time position before lying vacant for a year. As she walked into her first day, the office held a legal pad, a pen, a telephone, and a typewriter.
A noticeable lack of files on anything from local businesses to statistics for recent years greeted Green as she began her five-year journey to build the tourism of the town into a flourishing economy. It took almost three years before she pitched the brain child of her and friend Ken White, a ‘fee’ added into hotels to help inject life into efforts to grow the Chamber, the tourism, and the town as a whole. Something that anyone who has been to many Board of Commissioners meetings in Gilmer will recognize as the Hotel/Motel tax.
The single change of adding the fee injected an additional $200,000 into her tourism budget. It also kickstarted a growth in fishing tournaments as she began using the funds to host larger events. What she didn’t know at the time is that it would ultimately lead to her leaving the position.
Not by any mistake or incident, but the funds and growth in the tournaments gave way to something that began the actual transition. The spark that led her away from Eufaula was a laugh.
Having worked so closely over the years with BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society), Green grew closer to those she worked alongside. She found herself joking with a college roommate one day who worked with BASS saying “It’d be kind of cool to work with you guys.”
Though they all laughed, it didn’t take long for the seriousness to surface, drawing this young lady away from her hometown to Montgomery, Alabama. Though leaving Eufaula behind, Green often thinks back to both her family and her town. Yet, when talking about switching jobs and moving around, she says, “I’ve always been fortunate that I’ve never had to leave a job. It’s always been for a better opportunity.”
Starting the job in 2003, it wasn’t long before BASS, a company owned by ESPN, had Green flying to Connecticut to visit the home office. Yet throughout her time, it became rather muddy exactly what her title was. Titles like Sponsorship Coordinator and Director’s Assistant were mentioned several times over the years. But if you outlast four bosses like she did, it might be understandable that these things change a lot.
Actually, Green shares that it seemed each new boss came with a promotion for her as her title and function changed. Working to maintain relationships with clients, sponsors, event locations, and contracts, Green says, “I got to plan all of the cool parties, I just didn’t get to go.” Some of these events are widely well known even today, events like the Bassmaster Classic.
Events like these brought out a newer side of her as she began realizing the level of stress that comes with the events. For example, she calls the Bassmaster Classic ‘Hell-Week.’ It only showcases the kind of person it takes to become an events coordinator. These people not only thrive on the stress and chaos, they become addicted to it. She didn’t explicitly admit this, but after five years with Eufaula, five years with BASS, and ten years with the Gilmer Chamber, the term adrenaline junkie gets used more freely.
Indeed, she began showing her best efforts when facing 50 anglers on a lake, 50,000 people attending a weigh-in, sponsors and anglers whose rooms didn’t get booked, and other unforeseen errors. In fact, Green has never had an event in any job that didn’t have logistical problems. It reminds you of the old phrase, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
“Anyone who ever says ‘Oh, the event went so smoothly,’ they are lying,” says Green. The difference is that where most people would be freaking out over the logistical mistakes, Green says, “That’s the cool part, is fixing the problems you didn’t know you’d have.”
Now, that’s not to say the stress doesn’t get to her. By her own admission, she has come ‘unglued’ at times. “The difference,” says Green, “is being able to stay glued in front of people, and coming unglued in your hotel room that night.”
It is in these moments that one can find the real chink in the armor of this lady. It is the less visible moment that one finds their own humanity. It came in 2005 for Green. In 2004, BASS announced they were moving their company to Orlando, Florida. Though not everyone got an offer to move with the company, she did. As she deliberated the choice of moving, the fear began to settle.
Before you can simply pass this off as a simple choice that should not have had such weight, think about a small-town girl who has never lived more than 80 miles from where she grew up. Though she had traveled, she never moved that far. Think also about a girl very close to her parents, very attached to her life. It’s like walking a tightrope without a safety net for the first time. No short ride to visit with the parents who loved and helped her through the majority of her life, indeed it was new people, a new place, a new climate, a new house, and even new changes to the job.
She had made her decision to leave the company. The only problem was that she never told the company that.
It was in early 2005 that she had decided she was going to teach again. She had full plans to work for Troy University. She was so sure, in fact, that she had the paperwork ready. She had just left the university after accepting the position. It was decided.
It was a simple moment when she pulled off the road into a McDonald’s parking lot. Pulling out her phone, she called the same man she had checked in with for her entire life, her father. It was a simple moment… which changed everything.
She didn’t pull over and call him to question anything about her decision. Yet, as they spoke, Green says she could hear something in his voice. “Do you think I’m making a mistake?” she asked.
Not being the type of father to influence her decisions, he didn’t say whether he thought it was or not. It was her decision.
“I lost it,” says Green, “I just remember sitting in the parking lot at that McDonald’s at Troy and bawling my eyes out because I didn’t know whether to zig or to zag.”
She traveled home to her Montgomery apartment and sat staring at the wall for three hours. It wasn’t until a knock at the door finally pulled her from her trance that she got up. Answering the door, she found her parents standing there. Driving eighty miles through a storm, they had come to help her choose.
Laying everything out and discussing the options, a decision still could not be reached. Sending her parents home without a conclusion, Green says she woke up the next morning and called Troy to say she wasn’t taking the job. She was moving to Orlando.
As the years progressed, she began traveling more and more. She found herself on the road for 23 weeks out of the year saying, “I had a really nice house for my cat…” Having moved to Orlando in April of 2005, she spent the next three years with the company.
Though she enjoyed traveling and seeing the country, it was a constant suitcase being packed and unpacked. The continuous movement never really allowed roots to grow. She loved the job, but things began to add up to a need for change. It wasn’t just the constant traveling, though. Green says things began changing and people began leaving as rumors grew that the company might be sold.
Searching through options for positions with boat manufacturers to stay in the industry she knew and chamber positions to follow the what she began earlier in life, Green happened upon a posting on the internet about a position with a North Georgia county where she had visited as a child. She had found the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce.
She had, unfortunately, also found a 17-page application for the position. Something she jokes about to this day and even had in the temporary museum for the Chamber’s 40-year celebration.
Interviewing for the job proved to be far more difficult than just a 17-page application, however, as she first submitted her resume to Tim Chason, the ‘headhunter’ who was hired to find someone for the position. She then had a phone interview with him. After he approved of her as a potential candidate, he provided the 17-page application. He then narrowed down the candidates to four, including Green.
Coming in to interview with a committee meant facing eight people simultaneously. She met them in a boardroom on the second floor of New Horizons Bank, now South State Bank. To this day, she admits she refuses to sit at the head of the table as it was her spot for the interview.
In a remarkable turn, she shares a story that Melinda Hadden loves to tell. After the interview ended, Green walked out to her Toyota truck wearing a pencil skirt. Green says, “I’m a girl from South Alabama, so I yanked up my skirt to climb up into the truck.”
The catch is, the entire committee she had just interviewed with was standing at the window of the second floor watching her get into the truck. The twist came as Green shares the story saying that Hadden told the committee as soon as she saw her hike up her skirt, she knew that she was the one.
The job offer came on the very same day.
In perhaps one of the biggest ‘buts’ in Gilmer history, they hired her, but she started the job on October 1. Those of you who have lived in Ellijay know what October means. It 2008, when she was hired, October 1 fell on a Wednesday and one of the largest festivals in North Georgia fell on the following weekend, she had ten days to prepare herself for the Apple Festival.
Again, thriving on the chaos and stress, she has grown into a leader and logistical machine gathering her 20 years of experience into the position’s needs as president. It is a strength only she has access to according to Gilmer’s Tourism Director, Karla Roper.
It is her leadership that sets her apart for Roper. Another veteran of the Chamber world, Roper confesses that what ultimately drew her in with Paige Green was that “she saw me.” The faith and the encouragement is one thing, but the ability to share Roper’s vision and her support for ideas that may seem crazy was the key for Roper.
More than that, she says it is Greens experience that sets her in awe sometimes. The way she intuitively knows who to call and what to do to get things done. It is the thing she seeks on a daily basis to grow in, to gain that knowledge base and the experience that Green holds. Calling her the ‘Mama Bear’ of the Chamber, Roper notes its more than just dealing with issues, Green makes it look effortless and supporting and teaching her staff in the process.
It’s a shared feeling as both women separately noted the energy they get from each other. The growing relationship that feeds the family community is one of Roper’s favorite parts of working with Green.
With Roper echoing the point of how stressful the job has been over ten years, it becomes apparent that a desperate need to decompress is inherent with the position. Green says she has her family and friends to be with at times, but she shares a lesser known secret that is far more consistently used. A ‘quiet room’ furnished with books, comfortable chairs, and a lamp provides her solace. A literal refuge to hermit herself inside. As Green tells it, it is the one place in the world that people know, if she is there, don’t talk to her. It has no tv, she doesn’t take her cell phone there, it has no computer, it holds the world at bay for a few moments to release and simply be.
It is a blanket fort made solid.
But outside of this place, the job awaits, the complaints build, the economy shifts, and the staff rolls on. Teaching a point as President so uncommonly done, the ten-year mark has allowed a look back at how she has made it. Bodine and Roper agree it is the way she treats people that garners success, that it is her inspiration to people that has built the Chamber to what it is today.
Green, on the other hand, says it is the moments that fuel her. In a business with so many intangibilities, it is easy to get lost without something to hold onto as a goal or an achievement. The Chamber sells something that isn’t tangible. It sells memberships and the benefits involved. Likewise, when the Chamber meets a goal like a number of memberships, there is always a higher goal, more to be done.
Such a business is more difficult to run, says Green. That’s why you hold onto the moments that happen. Moments like establishing the Greater Gilmer JDA (Joint Development Authority) or being nominated to the USA Today’s Nicest Places in America become the validation needed for her position.
What exactly is that position? Green says she is the ‘head cheerleader’ for the county. Understanding that every community has something great about it is the first step, but the long and arduous process of marketing and growing that community is the part that needs cheering.
While it can be frustrating as such a public position, most local people see the Chamber cut a ribbon and that’s it. They don’t see many of the posts, marketing ads, and business deals that you would only know from listening to her reports during Commissioner Work Sessions.
Accomplishing success in this kind of market requires a double-edged sword. Simultaneously a great strength and a great weakness, Green says she was told by a friend that she was never satisfied. Despite what she has accomplished, she still feels like there is more to do in Gilmer County, more she can give.
With roots set in the county, Green says she doesn’t want to leave anytime soon. However, as she looks ahead she confesses a desire that she ends where she began. With no clear plan set, she does want to return to teaching someday. Whether its at Troy or Auburn or anywhere, the draw is undeniable.
Though there is future in the Chamber as well. Green is seeking certification as a CCE (Certified Chamber Executive) and looking at the possibility of getting the Chamber accredited. With only the top 2-3% in the country reaching accredited status. Wanting the status to build trust, she wants to show how strong the Chamber and the County can be.
The funny and energetic social introvert that is Paige Green, she says her shyness only lasts so far. It’s all about home-field advantage because if you catch her in comfortable situations, in her line of work or something she is familiar with, the introversion ceases and she becomes the person she has been for ten years in the Chamber. In control, the master of her domain.