By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer
COVINGTON - It's no coincidence that Northern Kentucky's economic boom began at roughly the same time as the formation of the region's chamber of commerce.
More than 1,000 people gathered at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center Thursday night.
They came to pay homage to the group that helped guide the community's maturation and success.
They joined in looking back on the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's history, its well-known leaders and legions of volunteers who over 35 years helped unite a once fractured collection of counties and cities into a cohesive community driven to improve the region's economy and quality of life.
Incoming chairman Bob Elliston, the president of Turfway Park, lauded the chamber's past chairmen and leaders as "responsible for this community being one of the most prosperous in the entire United States."
Once a little brother to Cincinnati and an afterthought in Frankfort, Northern Kentucky - through a nearly four-decade run of development and prosperity - has become a major player and economic force on a statewide level.
But it wasn't easy, and it certainly didn't happen overnight.
In a video message to the crowd, Fort Thomas developer Henry "Bud" Pogue, chamber chairman in 1971, told of the difficulty in forming the organization in 1969 out of its three forerunners - the Kenton County Chamber, the Campbell County chamber and the Boone County Businessmen's Association.
"It took us three years of negotiations" before the chamber was organized, Pogue said.
The chamber has had key roles in many of the region's major economic and government accomplishments since its founding, including:
Formation of regional entities, such as Tri-County Economic Development Corp., the Northern Kentucky Water District and the sanitation district.
Funding and support for infrastructure projects, including the Daniel Carter Beard, or "Big Mac," Bridge, Interstate 471 and the Northern Kentucky Convention Center.
Educational facilities, including expansions at Northern Kentucky University and the formation of Gateway Community and Technical College.
Major initiatives to improve primary and secondary education, workforce development and regional cooperation.
Ted Bushelman, director of communications at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and the 1972 chairman, said the chamber's "greatest contribution has been making Northern Kentucky even stronger than the sum of its many great parts."
During Thursday's dinner, the chamber handed out its top three annual awards. The winners were:
Jeff Eger, general manager of Sanitation District No. 1, winner of the Walter L. Pieschel Award, for service to the chamber over the past year.
Shaun Alexander, running back for the Seattle Seahawks, winner of the Northern Kentucky Imagemaker Award for bringing national or international attention to the region.
State Rep. Jim Callahan of Wilder, winner of the Walter R. Dunlevy/Frontiersman Award, which honors lifetime achievement for service to the community.
Also recognized was lawyer Charlie Pangburn, a longtime chamber member and Marine reservist who has spent nearly a year on active duty in Iraq.
He was honored with a standing ovation after being introduced to the crowd.
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