The Heber Springs Chamber of Commerce is sprinting into the new year with its annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet and other offerings that promise an exciting 2017 for area businesses and residents. 

This marks the 61st year for the Chamber Banquet and Chamber Director Julie Murray believes this year will offer a new, fresh feel for the traditional event. 

"The Banquet serves as the required annual meeting for our membership," said Murray. "We thought since we're required to have an annual meeting with all our members, why not have a little fun while we're doing it." 

This year, their plan is to present an annual State of the Chamber address, which will include some of their upcoming projects for 2017. 

"We have something very exciting we're launching this year, which is a brand new website for the Chamber," she said. "The first look the community will have of the new website will be at the banquet." 

"Also this year, we're not going for a speaker, we've got great live entertainment," she continued. "This year it's Thomas Lipham from the Museum of Discovery. So it's going to be all the cool science stuff and it will be a blast. It's something you won't want to miss." 

The annual Hall of Honor Award will again be presented at this year's banquet. For the second year, they will have an Outstanding Business of the Year Award and an Outstanding Nonprofit of the Year Award. Nominations for those are being accepted through January 31 and if you are interested in nominating a business or nonprofit, including your own, you can obtain those forms online at www.heber-springs.com under the Events Calendar. 

The 61st Annual Banquet of the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce will take place on February 23, 5:30 p.m., at the Heber Springs Community Center. 

The Banquet isn't the only cause for excitement for the Chamber in 2017. Murray believes the new website will be a popular addition for members and the public at large. 

"This is a whole new website that is fully integrated with our back office software," she said. "The entire design is more user friendly and a much stronger promotion for our members. Our old website has certainly served its purpose, but the framework is so old we can't easily update it. With the new one, we'll have full control over the content. There will be a feed that shows recently joined members, highlighted on the homepage. We'll have a feed of upcoming events and not just Chamber events, anyone who wants to upload an event. We'll also have a continuous feed of news and Chamber promotions." 

The new website will have an enhanced member directory, giving control to members over what information they have about their business or organization on the site. 

This year, a new set of eyes will be looking at annual Chamber events, such as Springfest and the Cardboard Boat Races. 

"For the last two years, Theresa Bobo has been our Events Coordinator and she did a fabulous job," said Murray. "She pretty much single-handedly brought the Cardboard Boat Races back from the brink, and it even won an Event of the Year Award under her guidance. She has since moved on to bigger and better things and in our search for her replacement, we were approached by Rich Florczak from Specialty Events and Experiences of Arkansas. He and his Boy Scout troop handled the parking for us at the fireworks and Boat Races, so we knew him and had worked with him before. He's now starting h is own event management company. He came to us with a proposal and we decided to try it for a year and see how it goes. By outsourcing our events, that gives us more time to focus on our members." 

The Chamber is planning a more intense focus on members by reorganizing the Ambassador Program. 

"The Ambassador Program has historically been a group of volunteers that represent the Chamber at ribbon cuttings and other events," she said. "We're ramping that up a bit. Those ambassadors that have been with us for a long time and have served the Chamber certainly can stay with those ribbon cuttings and events. Anyone going forward that wants to be an ambassador will be enrolled in a new program. They will be assigned a certain number of members and they will serve as a type of buddy for those members, helping them learn the benefits and more about what the Chamber can do for them." 

There are six new ambassadors enrolled in the program, but Murray said their goal is to have around 30. 

We asked Murray to name one thing she wanted people to know when they think of the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. 

"Our mission statement is To Promote and Grow Business While Enhancing the Community," she said. "When we revised that two years ago, we intentionally put business in the forefront of that mission statement. If I could pick one theme to define us, it would be community development." 

For more information on the Chamber Banquet, becoming and ambassador, or the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce as a whole, call them at 501-362-2444 or visit their website at www.heber-springs.com.