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Madison’s front porch

Many rave about the hometown feel of Madison County; the friendly, helpful residents make our community all the more pleasant. However, if our county were an old country home sitting alongside a dusty dirt road, Marianne Graves and Lisa Frieman of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, would be on the front porch, ushering people to stop by and sit a spell. These women are Madison County's cheerleaders, working hard to make sure our community grows and flourishes, yet still maintains it's rich history, beautiful landmarks and charming small town atmosphere. Their job is two-fold. The County moved its tourism office to the Chamber of Commerce many years ago. Now, their job is to promote tourism, as well as businesses. “Half of our time is spent dealing as the Chamber of Commerce with local businesses,” said Executive Director Lisa Frieman. “We do our best to promote those businesses. Marianne is wonderful at marketing. Our Facebook page, I Love Madison County Florida, currently has 2,186 members (since this interview, the page as grown to 2,197). It's just growing and growing. Business members post what's going on and it keeps everyone informed.” Upon entering the Chamber's office, one will see racks of business cards lining the wall. Frieman adds that there are 10 new members just this month and more racks have been ordered to accommodate more business cards. “We try to help local businesses as best we can,” said Frieman. “We serve the community,” added Marianne Graves. “There are a wide range of visitors who come in for help. We're very educational; we have very cool maps: biking, hiking and canoeing. Many people don't know that Madison has a 103 mile bike loop.” Shifting to Madison County tourism, Frieman adds, “People here have no idea what we have. We've got the most beautiful countryside.

We have people coming all the way from Germany to see our area. Huge groups of cyclers are coming through . . . there are also new residents; people coming from random places. They may have heard about Blue Springs; some simply drive up the interstate and stop here and explore and the first thing they say is how gorgeous downtown is. Our city tries hard to keep it beautiful-- we have the prettiest downtown. Marianne and I enjoy our job so much because we get to see everything going on; we see an increase in businesses. If you go downtown between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., you cannot find a parking spot. It is packed up here! It's exciting as a Chamber of Commerce and Tourism to see this growth!” You'll find Marianne and Lisa at many events around the community-- they're ever supporting what goes on in Madison County. “We accept every invitation,” said Frieman. Frieman and Graves stress the importance of supporting local businesses and shopping local. “One of things we want to start working on next is shopping local,” said Frieman. “We have to keep our business here. We need to be spending our money here. That's how we grow. We try to encourage people to use our local products. I've made the decision here at the Chamber that I do not buy my office supplies anymore out of town. Everything has to come from here; from my memberships.” “You've got to walk the talk,” added Graves, in agreement. In addition to flourishing businesses, Madison has received a lot of attention lately in the tourism department. Blue Springs was recently ranked among the 10 best swimming holes by USA Today and currently holds the number one place. People have started flocking to the spring and it has quickly become a vacation hotspot, welcoming people from all over the world. The Chamber posted pictures of Madison's Blue Springs back in May and their post went viral, reaching 1.5 million people. In addition, Wes Miller's up and coming movie, Prayer Never Fails, is currently being filmed in Madison County. “We started talking to Wes Miller back in January,” said Frieman. “It features Lorenzo Lamas who was a very famous actor in the eighties and nineties.” Frieman and Graves certainly don't want to slow down. They have big plans for Madison's future, hoping to work towards bringing an art festival to town. “There are so many artists in this region; we need an art festival,” said Frieman. “We need to work on cultural things here.” However, the Chamber cannot do what they do alone. Through teaming up with other branches in Madison County, they are able to make a difference. “I think a strong chamber supports growth,” said Frieman. Between the work of the Chamber, the Madison County Development Council and public officials and businesses, Madison County has experienced all sorts of growth over the years. Recently, when a prospective business owner came to Madison to decide whether or not to open his business here, he came to the Chamber.

“We made a call to Tim Bennett (City Manager) and he came over and drove him around town,” said Graves. The previous prospective owner is now the owner of a flourishing Madison County business. Through teamwork such as this, growth and prosperity has swept through Madison. Meet the staff: Marianne Graves is from Warren, Ohio. She lived there for 13 years until her family moved to Florida, where she lived in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale region for 30 years. She then moved to North Florida and fell in love with the area. She is married to Danny Graves, the youth coordinator at the Madison County Library, where he uses his talents to entertain kids throughout the community. Marianne loves her job. “I love the freedom I have to get my job done,” said Graves. “Administering our Facebook pages, keeping the newsletter going, receiving materials from our Chamber members, answering the phones, getting brochures out; it's a very good job for somebody who doesn't want to sit around all day.” In her spare time, Marianne loves photography; she has utilized her talent at the Chamber, as well. Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Executive Director, Lisa Frieman, was born in Milwaukee, Wis., however she was raised in England and lived there until her mid-thirties. She moved to Florida in 1995 and loved the atmosphere. “I love this job; I love people,” said Frieman. “I worked at the Senior Center for five years. If you were to go out there and ask them about me, every day, every old person in that building got a hug and a kiss. I don't know an enemy, I don't know anyone I don't like, I just get on with anybody.” On working at the Chamber, Frieman adds, “We're busy, but it is never the same day twice. Never. You cannot get much better than that. We work hard but we laugh and ask, do we really get paid for this?” It's fun, especially when we see a positive outcome.” If you would like more information on the Madison County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, call (850) 973-2788. There are many ways you can get involved, and Lisa or Marianne would love to talk with you about becoming a member. The Chamber is located at 316 SW Pinckney Street; come on by and sit a spell.

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1. Greene Publishing, Inc Photo By Savannah Reams, July 9, 2015. The staff at Madison's Chamber of Commerce and Tourism have a passion for Madison County which cannot be denied. Marianne Graves (left) and Executive Director, Lisa Frieman (right), are always busy making our community shine.

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