Chamber CEO proves there is potential in Batesville

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published August 18, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 16, 2013 at 10:14 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Crystal Johnson, president and CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, earned a graduation certificate from the Community Development Institute. She’s been with the chamber for four years and has a lot of plans for the community.

When Crystal Johnson got her start at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, she said, she wasn’t expecting to be in the position she now holds at the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson, 32, is the president and CEO of the Batesville Chamber and has held the position for four years.

She grew up in Fayetteville and enrolled in college at the U of A in 1998. Johnson and her husband, Damon, moved to Batesville in 2003.

She took two years off from school after the two moved to Batesville because she was going to pick up where she left off at the U of A.

Her husband is a Batesville native.

“The original plan was to move back to Fayetteville, but when we decided to make our move permanent, I enrolled at Harding,” Johnson said.

After she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences from Harding University in Searcy in 2006, she didn’t stop with her education. She is currently working on a master’s degree in community and economic development at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and plans to graduate in December.

After Johnson and her husband moved to Batesville and she finished school, she saw an opening for the CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“When I heard about the job opening, I didn’t think I was qualified,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know much about chamber work.”

Johnson said she discovered that she met the requirements, and the board members believed in her, so she was hired as CEO in 2009.

“I know Batesville is a great place to live; people just need to know about it,” she said.

Since becoming a part of the staff of the Batesville Chamber, Johnson said she’s found some surprising things in her line of work.

“Many people would not know how many volunteers we have that work on behalf of the chamber,” she said.

“They deserve the credit for the success of the chamber. We absolutely could not have a successful chamber without the volunteers and staff that we have.”

There are between 450 and 470 members of the Batesville Chamber, Johnson said.

The leaders on the chamber’s board want things in the community to change for the better, she said.

“We want to let people know how progressive the community is becoming,” Johnson said.

As CEO, Johnson is in charge of board management, budgeting, general operations of the Batesville office, programming and chamber events, and finding grants.

“We have 16 board members, 20 ambassadors and approximately 70 others who serve on various chamber committees,” Johnson said. “They make me look good, but they do the work.”

She is also in charge of the White River Water Carnival.

When she took over as Batesville Chamber CEO, Johnson said, the annual carnival wasn’t achieving the purpose she envisioned for the event.

“The attention wasn’t where I thought it needed to be,” Johnson said.

She wanted the focus to be on the mainstays of Batesville, which she said are poultry and Bad Boy Mowers, a lawnmower manufacturing company in Batesville.

“Now we have lawnmower racing and a chicken-wing competition,” Johnson said.

Both of these events draw more people to the carnival each year.

In addition to planning the White River Water Carnival, Johnson plans about 70 events a year for the chamber.

In her four years as CEO, Johnson has seen the city and chamber make changes for the better.

“We’ve brought financial stability back to the chamber,” Johnson said.

She said it took time, but the Batesville Chamber is now offering more programs to its members and educating their employees.

“We’re able to branch out and do community work,” Johnson said.

She said the chamber has done a feasibility study of Batesville in which the potential of a business or project is evaluated.

“We asked, ‘If we build something, will people come to it?’” Johnson said.

Johnson said her position with the chamber has opened up numerous opportunities for her and her family.

She’s watched the city grow and become a prime place for people to reside.

“If we’re going to be living here when [our daughter] graduates from college, we want her to want to come back and live here,”

Johnson said.

The positivity Johnson sees daily makes her enjoy her job.

“I enjoy making a positive difference. It’s really fun seeing things built,” she said. “It’s really rewarding most of the time.”

Improvements in local businesses and the community give her a reason to come to work each day.

“My favorite part [of my job] is providing opportunities to chamber members to grow their businesses or make their business better,” Johnson said.

The people in Batesville make Johnson’s job worthwhile, she said.

She wants to stress to Batesville residents that she and the chamber of commerce are there to benefit the community.

“We’re here to support businesses,” she said.

In addition to earning her master’s degree at UCA, she recently graduated from the Community Development Institute at the college.

Thirty-two people graduated with her.

“We go to [training] one week every year for three years,” Johnson said.

The program trains community leaders on how to strengthen local economies and build communities.

“[Graduating from CDI] is a great feeling,” Johnson said. “Every once in a while, in a meeting or conference, I’m the only female, or I’m the youngest person in there. This lets people know that I’m serious about what I’m doing.”

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or

Online News Editor Lisa Burnett can be reached at

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