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New Searcy chamber board chairman seeks to build stronger community relations

by Sam Pierce | January 24, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.
Bryan Burks was recently named the new chairman of the board for the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce. Last year, Burks served as the Leadership Searcy Alumni Committee chair and the Annual Banquet Committee chair for the chamber.

As the new chairman of the board for the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce, Bryan Burks has two goals in mind. First, he wants the chamber to adjust “to the new normal,” and second, he hopes is to engage more college students in chamber activities.

“I want to see what we can do in the coming year to get us through,” he said. “COVID-19 has impacted the chamber, especially our fundraising events.

“We will continue to give businesses our support, and if there is government financial support, we want to make sure we help point those businesses in the right direction.”

Secondly, Burks said, he would love to engage Harding University students in activities at the chamber — students from the Paul R. Carter College of Business Administration in particular.

“I think there could be some work with the chamber. We just don’t have the resources to get it done,” Burks said. “I would love to see our students working with our community and to formalize a work program to make those connections easier.

“We want to provide those opportunities to do that. I’d like to see if there are ways to strengthen that. I would just love to see it continue and be enhanced.”

Burks serves as vice president for Advancement at Harding University in Searcy. He has been in that role since 2015, and prior to that, he taught for 20 years in the College of Business Administration, serving as its dean for 13 years.

In his role at the university, Burks oversees the areas of fundraising, the Alumni Relations Office and the university’s communication and marketing departments.

“I do have relationships throughout the community, including many businesses and banks, and I have lived in Searcy most of my life,” Burks said. “I just enjoy being a part of this community, and it is just a natural outflow of what I do to work with these people and help the community.”

Burks was named chairman of the chamber board Jan. 1 after serving as vice chairman in 2020. He worked under Steve Foster, who served as chairman of the chamber last year. Phil Miller, assistant vice president and CIO of Unity Health, is the current vice chairman. Burks said it is up to the board to put together the slate of people who are engaged in the community to serve.

“Bryan is an excellent choice as our new chairman of the board,” said Tara Cathey, chamber vice president. “Bryan will provide the leadership to help the chamber offer new opportunities for our members to market, develop and connect their businesses this year.

“We are looking forward to working with Bryan in his new role as board chairman.”

In his new role, Burks said, he will lead the monthly meetings and ensure that all committees are working and striving to meet their goals.

“I’m going to be working with the staff at the chamber, help serve the community and make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible,” Burks said. “I want to be a cheerleader for our businesses and the chamber.”

Last year, Burks served as the Leadership Searcy Alumni Committee chair and the Annual Banquet Committee chair. When it became obvious that the chamber’s normal in-person banquet was not going to happen, the chamber began looking at hosting a virtual event, and Burks ran with the idea, Cathey said.

“The committee, under his leadership, was able to produce in a time span of six weeks a funny, heartfelt event that highlighted individuals and businesses in our community,” Cathey said.

“His results-oriented, positive, enthusiastic and inclusive leadership style helped make the event a success,” she said.

“We aired that in December, and our leadership program is continuing,” Burks said. “We were able to have our golf tournament in the fall.

“The virtual meetings are working fine, but our activity has been reduced a little bit. We are very thankful to be able to do the few activities we have done.”

Early on, the chamber had a very good response to the virtual meetings, which took place once a month for about four months. Burks said that eventually, the meetings were conducted in-person again with everyone required to be spaced out and masked.

“But due to the spike [in COVID-19 cases] recently, we will be virtual for a couple of months,” he said.

Burks has lived in Searcy most of his life, having graduated from Harding Academy and Harding University. He said he also has a master’s degree, a doctorate and “all that boring stuff.” After graduating from Harding, he moved to Nashville.

“Like any kid growing up, I was ready to move away and do my own thing,” Burks said, “but after the birth of our first child, my wife and I talked about where we wanted to raise our family, so we moved back.”

He came back to Harding University to teach in the College of Business Administration in 1995. He said he loved the college experience and working with the students.

“Teaching came natural to me and getting involved in the lives of my students,” Burks said. “I wanted to be a part of the Christian experience. I saw the value of it, and I just wanted to continue it.

“I felt like it was making a difference.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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