MURRAY — Today will mark the final chance Michelle Bundren and LaCosta Hays can prepare for what will prove to be a date with destiny Sunday.
It will be in the early-morning hours Sunday that the duo, representing the Murray-Calloway County Chamber of Commerce, will go into a room to meet with a large panel that will ultimately decide whether or not their presentation is good enough to claim Murray-Calloway County’s second-ever National Chamber of the Year honor. Murray-Calloway will be in the category for smallest-size chambers, with the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce in Effingham, Illinois and the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce of Wooster, Ohio providing the opposition.
However, as Bundren, Murray-Calloway president and CEO, and Hays, the chamber’s Board of Directors chair, put it earlier this week, large division or small, a national championship is still a national championship. And while they are the two charged with representing their community, they said they believe they will feel that community’s support Sunday.
“People around here are excited that we’re getting this opportunity,” Hays said of the interview that will happen as part of the 2019 Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives Conference in Long Beach, California. The pair flies there today.
“We’ve received numerous text messages and calls. In fact, I was a grocery store a few days ago and someone came up to me and said, ‘You guys are going to California!’ Hays said, comparing this to how she and her teammates prepared for postseason battle with the girls basketball program at alma mater Murray High. “That’s a great analogy. It’s a certainly a competition.”
“One thing I have found out in working with LaCosta these past several weeks is that we are both very competitive,” Bundren said of how the California scenery will not matter until Sunday’s work is done. “There is no leisure time for us until that interview is over, and I know I’m going over-analyze our interview. I’m sure the whole day after the interview, I’ll be like, ‘Did we say enough? Did we do this or do that?’”
The interview is the third and final part to the process of determining the Chamber of the Year. First was applying to enter the competition, which the Murray-Calloway Chamber did last year. Then came submitting a written presentation, and Bundren said Murray-Calloway’s has already been judged as the best of the finalists.
However, the interview is the most important part, accounting for two-thirds of the final score. Bundren and Hays will be in the room with the panel for no less than 45 minutes Sunday and can have no notes or visual aids of any kind available to them while that interview is in progress.
So that is why the two Murray-Calloway representatives have been treating this like a final exam, spending several hours together earlier this week formulating their attack, even though the subject matter that will be covered is not known. However, they said they have a good idea of how to approach it, and it is quite familiar to both of them.
“Michelle and I have just talked about different things that we wanted to highlight as far as things in our community that we’re proud of,” Hays said, emphasizing awards the Murray-Calloway Chamber has won in the past several years, as well as using testimonials from Chamber members. “We want to give (the panel) a feel for how our whole town is championing our community and all of the great things we have to offer here, and we’re making sure to include everything because there’s so much and so many wonderful things we’re doing.”
Bundren also said she is glad the interview is so important in the overall scoring.
“I think we want to show that we’re just as impressive in real life as we are on paper, so the interview really gives us that opportunity,” she said. “If you ever have done an interview, you know how sometimes people look great on paper, but they’re not as impressive in person. We don’t want that to be the case. We want to show that we have our stuff together.”
Bundren also said that Murray-Calloway being a finalist this year adds pop to the overall Kentucky Chamber program, which will have three of its organizations seeking national titles. Louisville and Bowling Green are the others, and this is occurring as longtime Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson is preparing to retire from that post.
However, while Bundren and Hays acknowledge that watching three Kentucky chambers win national championships would be as nice a retirement gift as Adkisson could receive, they are concentrating on how their own community. And they cannot help but wonder what the excitement level would be for what is billed as the biggest event in the town annually — the Chamber’s Business Celebration — if a second national title is claimed.
That event happens Friday at Murray State University, just days after the national award is given at Monday night’s dinner in Long Beach.
“We have accomplished a lot, but the cherry on top would be bringing that trophy home and displaying it that night,” Bundren said.