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story.lead_photo.caption Kyle Christopher, tourism director for the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, holds a vinyl record and a flier for the annual chamber banquet, Friday Night Fever, set for Jan. 25 at the Batesville Community Center. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

BATESVILLE — This year’s Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting and gala will have a 1970s flair to it.

Friday Night Fever will take place Jan. 25 at the Batesville Community Center. The event is sold out, according to chamber chief operating officer Jamie Rayford, who is in her fourth year with the chamber.

“We were looking for something light and fun that would connect with a good amount of the audience that would be at the event,” Rayford said. “We always try to choose a fun, interactive theme. That is one of the reasons people love the event.”

The highlight of the event will be the community awards. The biggest award is the Excellence in Business Award, Rayford said.

“For that award, you are great at not only performance and keeping your own profit and loss in place, but you are engaged in the community,” Rayford said.

The nominees are Citizens Bank, FutureFuel Chemical Co. and the Intimidator Group.

Award nominees for Leader in Health Care are former White River Health System CEO Gary Bebow, Vita Link EMS and Wood-Lawn Inc.

Finalists for the Leader in Education awards are the Batesville School District Board of Education; Annette Castleberry, career services specialist at Lyon College; Byron Difani, Eagle Mountain Elementary School principal; Leigh Keller, Batesville High School counselor; the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville’s Nursing and Allied Health Division; and Heath Wilson, Cedar Ridge Elementary School custodian.

Finalists for the Excellence in Customer Focus award are the Melba Group and Simply Southern Imprinting.

Nominees for the Community Collaboration Award are the Batesville Area Arts Council, Goodwill Industries and the Independence County Library.

With the theme being the 1970s, winners will receive a framed vinyl record with the award title on it.

The banquet will also include a review of 2018.

“We just look at all of the community accomplishments — buildings, any kind of groundbreakings or plans for construction, any new big initiatives that have been launched — tourism, education, health care or economic development,” Rayford said. “We cover those areas. We do a big highlight video.”

Album covers listing the chamber’s highlights will be on the tables for attendees to take home.

Additionally, the 14 graduates of the Leadership Batesville Class of 2018 will be recognized.

“They were doing a class where they learned about entry-level leadership, the community and civic engagement,” Rayford said. “Many of them have been asked or will go on to take part in things like the Zoning and Planning Commission or other advisory boards in the community. We’re kind of that leadership-development pipeline for some of those groups.”

Also being recognized will be the city’s Chamber Ambassadors.

“They are a wonderful group of business leaders in our community who are affiliated with the chamber and have the title Chamber Ambassador,” Rayford said. “They help us do all of our ribbon-cuttings, welcome new businesses to town, conduct groundbreakings and celebrate any new accomplishment in our town. They are really an extension of our staff.”

The gala will be catered by Colton’s Steakhouse in Batesville.

After the ceremony, a dance will take place with a DJ playing ’70s music.

“We’ll have different ’70s music videos playing on the big screens,” Rayford said. “It turns into a party. Everybody celebrates and has fun. It’s a great time.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or


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