ELLIJAY, Ga. – An official permit has been submitted to the City of Ellijay, according to Jennifer Grimmer, President and CEO of the Gilmer Chamber, who said today that the Taste of Ellijay is happening this year.
The Chamber has been plagued by cancellations of their major events over the past year since the first cases and the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year, 2020. They cancelled the Apple Blossom Festival, Taste of Ellijay, and the Apple Festival in 2020 as well as cancelling the Apple Blossom Festival again this year, 2021. Usually held in early May, the decision had already been made over the festival, the Taste of Ellijay event, typically in late May, has now been confirmed as happening.
Grimmer has only been under the CEO mantle for two months, dealing with getting up to speed in the position while also planning and preparing the early stages of this event, she has dealt with updating the Chamber’s website, branding, signage, and even storm damage from late March on the Chamber’s roof in East Ellijay.
As reports continue of dwindling cases and issues with COVID, the news comes as a positive to many citizens who say they are happy to return to these long held annual events. Grimmer has indicated that the Chamber will be moving forward with plans to return the annual Apple Festival in October this year, as well.
In addition to the news of the Taste of Ellijay event, Grimmer announced a new challenge with the street festival. In honor of the county and its 50th Anniversary of the Apple Festival, the Chamber will be hosting a challenge amongst the restaurants participating for the “most original apple dish.” Grimmer said there was a surprise for the winner, but did not comment on what it is.
The Taste of Ellijay event is scheduled for May 27, 2021. The first return to annual events will also be the first one under the leadership of Grimmer as the new President.
Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce leaders have selected an experienced chamber and tourism professional as the new president and chief executive officer of the business organization. Jennifer Grimmer was unanimously approved by the chamber’s board of directors on Friday, January 15 to lead the 650 member chamber which serves as the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for East Ellijay, Ellijay, and Gilmer County.
Grimmer previously served as the Executive Director of the Peachtree City Convention and Visitors Bureau – Atlanta Regional Tourism from 2015 – 2018. She is currently the Marketing Manager/Digital Marketing Specialist for the Natural Resources and Wildlife Division with the State of Utah in Salt Lake City where she has created and implemented a marketing strategy for the Department of Wildlife Resources.
“The chamber’s search committee was very focused on the qualifications of the candidates we wanted to interview,” according to Chris Wang, 2020 Chair. “Chamber, tourism, and marketing experiences were dominant skill sets that are required of the president. Jennifer met all of those prerequisites on paper and in person.”
Originally from Oregon and a 2000 graduate of the University of Oregon, Grimmer grew up in a community that depended heavily on small businesses and tourism, similar to East Ellijay, Ellijay and Gilmer County. She has held chamber and tourism positions in Corvallis, Wilsonville, and Medford/Jackson County, all in Oregon, and Wahkiakum in Washington State. While in Wilsonville, Grimmer founded Oregon Horse Country (OHC) as an arm of the Wilsonville Chamber. The organization focuses on connecting, strengthening and representing the equine industry in the state. Lodging tax for Wilsonville increased by 30% following launch of OHC after its first year in operation. Forming OHC garnered the Core Competency Award from the Western Chamber Executives Association in 2011 for the Wilsonville Chamber.
“The opportunity to return to Georgia and be a part of an organization like the Gilmer Chamber is a dream come true for me,” Grimmer said. “My husband and I are recently empty-nesters and I’m excited to find a position I can pour myself into, make a priority and make a difference. My first initiative will be to listen to the community and build upon the foundations that are already in place in terms of tourism and chamber programs.”
Grimmer’s successes in Peachtree City include the founding of the annual Hops and Props Georgia beer festival in partnership with the Commemorative Air Force as well as the Annual Wine and Warbirds Festival. She also served on the boards of the Fayette County Chamber and Arts Council of Fayette County. Other accomplishments include graduating from both Leadership Fayette and the Georgia Academy of Economic Development.
“The timing is right to bring Jennifer into the community as our new president,” said Wang. “Gilmer County was a great place for people to come spread out in throughout 2020, and we are excited to have a new president bringing fresh ideas for 2021 to continue to market our area as a perfect destination for all people to get away to. Jennifer’s expertise can play a large role in furthering the chamber’s core values of Integrity, Kindness, Collaboration, and Vision.”
Grimmer and her husband Ben, who served as a United States Marine, plan to move to Gilmer County in the next few weeks. Her first day at the chamber will be February 1.
Members of the search committee, in addition to Wang, included Amber Davenport, United Community Bank, past chamber chair; John Marshall, past chamber chair; Bobby McNeill, Chateau Meichtry Family Vineyard & Winery, 2021 Chair of the chamber; Lex Rainey, past chamber Chair; Donna Reece, Piedmont Mountainside Hospital, current chamber board member; and Jason Smith, ETC and ETC Security, Treasurer/Secretary of the chamber.
The president’s position became vacant in the fall of 2020 when Paige (Green) Hutto resigned her seat to move to Alabama. She had served the community for 12 years and grown the chamber in both influence and valuable programming.
The chamber board engaged The Chason Group to lead the executive search process. The firm, which is Georgia based, specializes in executive searches for chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, foundations and other non-profits. The placement of Grimmer marks the third Gilmer Chamber president recruited by The Chason Group.