In an industry where many chamber leaders work their way up the ladder and move around the country to other, larger organizations, Burdine has remained firm for the past quarter of a century and stayed in his hometown.
It’s a decision he’s never regretted.
“When I was leaving (active duty service) in the Marines in 1987, my wife and I had two small children and I was about to deploy again, but I didn’t want to leave my family again,” Burdine told the Times News in a recent interview about his time with the chamber. “So I left the Marine Corps and started looking around at where I wanted to live. My wife and I said there is no better place to raise a family, educate our kids and enjoy a great quality of life.”
Burdine, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel, was hired on July 5, 1994 by then chamber Executive Director Bob Miller to oversee Fun Fest, government relations and education. When Miller left the chamber in 1999, Burdine was promoted to the top job.
What is it about the chamber that’s kept you around for 25 years?
“It’s a chance to work with and help improve our community. I’m a people person and to me that means being around and helping people, being around and helping our community. I would have done it as a volunteer, so the best of both worlds is I get paid for doing it.
“I’ve had other opportunities, but I love coming into work every day. That’s what’s kept me here: the people I work with and seeing progress and successes in this community. I’m not planning to retire any time soon.”
Not only is the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce an advocate and supporter for businesses large and small in our city, but the organization also oversees a variety of programs and events within our community, including Fun Fest and the Santa Train, Keep Kingsport Beautiful, Healthy Kingsport, Visit Kingsport, Move to Kingsport, the Kingsport Office of Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship and the Downtown Concert Series.
Our chamber has about 30 employees, although seasonal hires and interns bump that number up at different times of the year, and for all of the programs and events under its umbrella, Burdine said Kingsport’s chamber is relatively the same size as similar organizations in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Murfreesboro.
How is the Kingsport Chamber successful?
“These people right here,” Burdine said pointing to a list of staff. “Some may come and go, but here’s the heart of why we’re successful. We’re the umbrella for all of these programs. ... It has all of the parts and pieces to do all of the things we need to do to move this community forward.
“The idea back in the day ... instead of having separate voices, we came together as one voice to talk to government and recruit businesses. A unified voice is much more powerful than separate voices.”
How would you describe the culture at the chamber?
“We’re very friendly, very hardworking and very welcoming. We have a ‘leave loudly’ policy where family comes first. You can holler, ‘My son is in a school play today and I’m leaving at 2 p.m. to go to the play.’ I encourage that and think it’s wonderful. Instead of feeling like you have to sneak out, I encourage them to want to go out.
“We also have ‘bring a baby to work,’ a policy in place where you can bring them to work under these conditions. It helps the mother want to come back to work a little earlier and still get in a good productive day even if it’s not a full day.”
What is a typical day for you?
“A lot of meetings, emails, and texts. There is no typical day here, which makes it fun. We’re meeting with businesses every day, sometimes recruiting businesses here. A lot of times I don’t know what’s going to happen on a daily basis and I like that.”