What has Bob seen over time at the Kingsport Chamber?

Hank Hayes • Jul 23, 2018 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT – Bob Feagins didn’t want this story to be all about him.

He’s been at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce overseeing communications and development for the last 20 years, with one of his main accomplishments being the growth of the Kingsport Chamber Annual Dinner.

“I would rather (the story) be … people here have been here longer like (Chief Financial Officer) Elaine (Bodenweiser) and (president and CEO) Miles (Burdine) … longer than I have,” Feagins stressed. “I don’t really want it to be about me.”

Feagins answered these questions:

Do you remember your first day?

“I do remember my first day. It was June 22, 1998. I had to go through three interviews with Bob Miller, Miles’ predecessor and Elaine Bodenweiser interviewed me … They were my first program directors meeting.”

What do you see as your mission here?

“I would rather this be more about what I’ve seen here over the last 20 years and the growth and development of this community, and the progress this organization has made. My job here has kind of changed. It’s still basically to tell the chamber’s story and promote the great things we are doing … all our volunteers and sponsors and companies do all the work … there’s a lot going on. This organization has grown. We’re obviously in a new building. We’ve created new programs. KOSBE (Kingsport Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship) is an example. Healthy Kingsport, Move To Kingsport and STREAMWORKS are here under our umbrella. What’s great to see is the impact on our community. We have a lasting impact on the quality of life and economic development. A large part of that reason is Miles. He’s a great leader. I tell members it all starts at the top. Miles sets that positive attitude. He sets the culture and the environment. He gives you the freedom to do your job and he’s there to support you … it’s a real family atmosphere and that’s one reason I’ve stayed here 20 years.”

One of your main jobs is basically being the CEO of the Kingsport Chamber dinner. How do you approach that responsibility?

“When I first started that dinner, we were lucky if we broke even … it was one of those events where I thought ‘We can do a lot more with this.’ What really turned that around is when Jack Dempsey, then president and general manager of Newschannel 11, came to me and Miles and said ‘I’d like to volunteer for the chamber, do you have a role for me?’ That station is still the host sponsor of the event. He brought the resources of the TV station to the event with the video production and the marketing and the contacts with CBS in New York. We went away from the after dinner speakers and brought in Symphony of the Mountains and Broadway stars and made it more of an entertaining night … we couldn’t do all that we do without the sponsors. … (former Times News Publisher) Keith Wilson told me ‘Bob, if you want a successful event, it has to be one where the people want to come back every year.’”

You’ve always called the dinner the “largest chamber dinner in the nation.” How did you come up with that?

“We talk to other chambers across the state and across the nation. We ask ‘What’s the size of your event?’ Not only in terms of attendance but in production value. We haven’t found one that’s larger … we’ve had other chambers come visit our chamber dinner to learn about it … and we’re doing a separate State of Your Kingsport Chamber holiday breakfast in December where we give our Lifetime Member Award … we come in every day and say ‘What can we do to make Kingsport better?’”