In Cabot, last Tuesday, Jan. 23, could be described in two words – “magically entertaining” – as the Cabot Chamber of Commerce held its 57th Annual Membership Banquet with Scott Davis, a nationally known magician headquartered in Hot Springs serving as the headliner of the evening.
Davis’ 40-minute act consisted of sleight-of-hand card tricks, feats of mentalism, a continuous patter of jokes and one-liners, and was heavily weighted toward audience participation as Davis picked assistants at random out of the crowd of some 400 people.
Leading into a mind-reading demonstration, Davis told the crowd that mind-reading is a skill that runs in his family, saying as an example, “My uncle knew the exact day and time that he would die,” then paused for moment before continuing.
“Well, actually, the judge told him,” he said, as the room erupted into laughter.
Amy Williams, executive director of the chamber for the past five years, expressed her satisfaction at the turnout as she surveyed the banquet hall, filled almost to capacity.
“Our entertainer tonight is a perfect example of the talent we have right here in Arkansas,” she said. “We’ve had people come in from out of state to entertain, but Scott is a wonderful magician and entertainer who lives in Arkansas. He’s based in Hot Springs and does something like 300 shows a year all over the country.”
Williams said the chamber has experienced steady growth during her tenure, growing from approximately 300 members in 2013 to the 430 members it has to date, which she said she believes has been partly accomplished by taking on an inward focus.
“When I took over as director, I had no clue how to run a chamber. That wasn’t my background,” said Williams. “But I just tried to grow from within, to attract investments in small businesses, to get businesses to join the chamber, and to try and innovate new ideas on how to make Cabot grow.”
Much of her focus is also on creating networking opportunities for members and outreach to the community.
“We do around 15 events a year, CabotFest being our biggest event, and we do New Teacher Lunch, a Local Lunch, an Education Fair with the school system to kind of network the businesses with our school staff, we do a Bowling for Business tournament that’s kind of a fun night for businesses, our Membership Banquet, we have a Christmas business open house, so every month throughout the year we have at least one event and sometimes two,” Williams said. All of that activity, she said, has resulted not only in positive growth for the chamber, but in a vibrant and engaged membership.
“I visit with a lot of chambers around the state and to be honest, Cabot is blessed, and I’ve been blessed by being able to grow the membership in the last five years,” Williams said. She credited the chamber staff and volunteers with doing much of the heavy lifting necessary to attract new members. Williams also credited the partnerships the chamber has formed with local entities.
“It’s healthy to have partnerships. We believe in strong partnerships with the city, with Cabot Public Schools, which is the largest employer and really what drives Cabot, with Little Rock Air Force Base because we house a lot of the military men and women stationed there,” she said. “I think that shows that we’re healthy, and it catches on and kind of gives off a good vibe and people enjoy it.”
Outgoing chamber directors were recognized for their service. Damon Bivens, Jacob Fox, Gina Quattlebaum, and David Hazeslip were presented with service plaques. A fifth outgoing director, Jim Castrodale, was unable to attend.
Hazeslip, the outgoing chamber president, reflected briefly on his tenure.
“In my time as president I found that the chamber is enthusiastically supported, people are always volunteering for things, and we’re all moving in the same direction,” he said. “I’ll miss it but I’m also looking forward to going back to sitting where you are.”
Hazeslip said as he was writing his speech for the night, going over the accomplishments of the previous year, he was struck by the amount of participation by members serving on committees, volunteering for events, and the work and coordination efforts of the chamber staff, Williams and Gina Jones, the chamber office manager.
“The more I typed, the more I just felt blessed,” he said. “The more I felt humbled by the outpouring of support from our chamber members.”
Five new board members; Kenneth Bokker, Sarah Brown, David McKinney, Mike Stinnett, and Larry Tarrant, were introduced and recognized.
Amy Hughes, elevated from 1st Vice President to chamber president, said when she moved to Cabot about ten years ago, she was struck by several things about the city.
“The first thing I really noticed when we moved here and were looking around was what a beautiful college campus you have,” she said, pausing as laughter began to ripple across the room. “That was the high school.”
She said she also noticed that people were friendly and welcoming, and that the community seemed to turn out and support big events and seemed to be very supportive of youth activities.
“The common denominator behind all of that is local Cabot businesses. I thought what a great community where everybody comes together and where the backbone of all that is you people. I think it’s going to be a really exciting year,” Hughes said.
Prior to the night’s entertainment, guests dined on chipotle chicken breast, cilantro lime rice, black beans and garden salad, with Tres leche cake and chocolate cake for dessert. The meal was catered by Savory Catering and Event Planning out of Kensett. About 30 National Honor Society members from Cabot High School acted as servers for the event, which was held at the Veterans Park Event Center in Cabot.
A photo booth sporting a shimmering silver backdrop and a box full of props gave guests the chance to unwind and show their less serious side as the attendant photographer took photo after photo.
The Membership Banquet is one of the primary events hosted each year by the Cabot Chamber of Commerce for its membership, which currently numbers 430 businesses and individuals.