Hundreds filled the auditorium of Grace Community Church at Ward on Friday, for the annual Ward Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Speaker of the House Davy Carter was keynote speaker for the event, which included naming of the Ward Chamber Citizen and Business of 2012.

In his remarks, Carter said creating a close community and opportunities is important so that after children go on to college, that they choose to stay in Arkansas.

Chamber president Chris Mann called on members to keep building relationships and to concentrate on developing ties with small and home-based businesses to help the Chamber grow.

Mann also made a presentation honoring the late Don C. “Dude” Spence.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke was named the 2012 Ward Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year.

Centennial Bank was named the Ward Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year for 2012.

A plaque on the special recognition of Spence was presented to his wife, Margie Spence.

Gary Meadows, 2011 Citizen of the Year, announced the award to Brooke. Meadows remarked that because of Brooke’s position as mayor, it is easy to forget that Brooke is also a citizen, Meadows said.

“[Brooke] truly cares for the city and everyone in it, their health, safety and welfare,” Meadows said.

“I’ve worked with him inside the city, I’ve seen him across the state. He is constantly selling the city and its people,” Meadows said.

Mann announced Centennial Bank as the Ward Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year for 2012. Centennial Bank branch manager Sharon Roberts accepted the award.

“This is our first business of the year award,” Mann said.

It is appropriate that Roberts accepted the award for the bank, Mann said. “Any time the Chamber needs anything, [Roberts] will say, ‘Let me see if I can get it. Let me help,’ … and the answer is always yes,” Mann said.

Mann announced the recognition of Spence for his years of community service. Brooke presented the plaque to Margie Spence.

“I met Dude many years ago, and he was always willing to help,” Brooke said.

Spence was recalled as a lifelong resident of Lonoke County who was very active in the community. He was a graduate and faithful supporter of Cabot High School, a charter member of the Cabot Education Foundation Hall of Fame; school board member; and, for 16 years, the county judge.

“He was a hard-working farmer. Dude encouraged everyone he met to be involved in their community, and to put family first,” Mann said.

“Communities don’t just happen by themselves. They happen because of families just like the Spence family,” Mann remarked.

In his own remarks, Mann described 2012 as a “fantastic year” for the Chamber. He called on members to look into new outreaches for the Chamber, to small and home-based businesses.

“Others might look at the Ward Chamber and just think ‘small.’ We might be right now … but we’re growing,” Mann said. The past two years have seen a 67-percent increase in membership, he remarked.

Chamber revenue saw a 65-percent increase between 2011 and 2012, Mann said. “We are making an investment in Ward, not just be a club for someone to come to,” he said.

Many of the businesses in Ward are not “storefront,” he said.

“You can’t drive down Main Street and see ‘so-and-so contractor’ … and many more are home-based businesses, Mann said. “These are businesses that we have to reach out to more,” Mann said.

A recent study has underscored the “true impact” of Chambers of Commerce, Mann said. “Fifty-nine percent of consumers think that being active in a local chamber is an effective business strategy,” he said.

“When a business is involved in a local Chamber, consumers are 12 percent more likely think its products stack up better against the competition,” Mann said.

When a restaurant is a Chamber member, consumers are 40 percent more likely to eat there within a month, Mann said.

Consumers are 43 percent more likely to consider an insurance company that is a Chamber member.

Small businesses make up about 80 percent of most local Chambers of Commerce, Mann said. “Not your large corporations. Your small, hometown business,” he said.

Consumers are more likely to think favorably of a small business that is a Chamber member, Mann said. “By about 44 percent,” he said.

This is a significant figure for anyone involved in politics, Mann said. “If Chamber membership can help a restaurant or insurance company … Why couldn’t it help [a politician],” he asked.

“A 44 percent increase when you run for election?” Mann asked.

“Our goal for the next year is more of a one-on-one relationship with our members,” Mann said.

“Not just send a mailer out. Not just to say we have a website. But get to know who our members are,” Mann said.

“Whether you are a business, or an individual, or a politician. We extend an invitation to join the Ward Chamber of Commerce and help move Ward forward this next year,” Mann said.

State representative Joe Farrer introduced Carter, representative for District 43 that includes Cabot and much of central Lonoke County. Carter was Speaker of the House for the just-ended 88th General Assembly.

Carter said that although Cabot and Ward are not in the same district, “I still think of them as one.”

Carter said he had been asked what is it like being the Speaker of the House, “Are you glad [the session] is over.” After two days, boredom set in, Carter said.

Carter said he and his wife, Cara, have lived in the area for about 10 years and one of the first persons he met was Dude Spence.

It did not take long to realize Spence’s priority was family, and then friends, and then community, Carter recalled. “Lots of friends, and he cared deeply about his friends,” he said.

“I don’t know that I ever heard [Spence] say ‘No.’ He would always try to figure out a way to help … I think we could all learn a lot of lessons from Dude,” Carter said.

Working together as a community is an attribute that everyone should work toward, Carter said. Such a town is one that children and grandchildren would want to return to, Carter said.

But sometimes people get away from that goal, Carter said. “The Lord, family, friends and town are the things that matter,” he said.

Making sure that environment is created; opportunities are created, so that after children go on to college, that they choose to stay in Arkansas, Carter said.

“Don’t ever give up on what you are doing … because these are the things that matter … If you don’t do it, nobody else is going to do it,” he said.