11/03/10 — Chamber's director will leave post at end of year

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Chamber's director will leave post at end of year

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 3, 2010 1:46 PM

Steve Hicks

Wayne County Chamber of Commerce president and executive director Steve Hicks, 67, announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the year.

Hicks, who guided the chamber through a restructuring in response to declining membership, said the decision to retire was his and that he was not asked to step down.

"I think they were a little bit taken aback because people didn't realize how old I was," he said.

Hicks said that even during the past two tight economic years, he had not given any thought to retiring.

"All kinds of things went through my mind when my wife passed away (about two years ago) and things were tough then, but this chamber stuck with me and supported me during that time," he said. "I felt like I needed to stay here and do what I needed to do. I think we have come a long way."

A native of Snow Hill, Hicks said his decision was motivated by his desire to spend more time with his children and grandchildren.

"And frankly, at this age, I am not getting any younger," he said.

Chamber officials are already forming a search committee to find a new president, Hicks said.

"Unfortunately, the way the economy is, there are a lot of qualified people out there. Some not necessarily who have been in this business, but may have been in business. I have an idea they will have a lot of folks (apply). This is a great place to live and work."

Hicks said that he plans to sell his home and eventually move to Atlantic Beach.

Prior to taking leadership of the Wayne Chamber, Hicks served for a number of years as the chamber director in New Bern and had his own public relations firm. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and East Carolina University. He worked on his father's farm and later worked for 10 years with J.P. Stevens, a textile company. He also worked with his father at a hotel his father developed at Emerald Isle.

Asked what he thinks his accomplishments have been at the chamber, Hicks was quick to credit the chamber board and the staff he has worked with for the past seven years for any accomplishments made.

He said he is particularly proud of the chamber's involvement in education, its advances in leadership development and in new partnerships it has developed and in its work through the Military Affairs Committee.

Hicks said one thing Wayne residents need to more serious about is tourism, which he said generates $120 million annually for Wayne's economy. A good portion of that includes businesses trying to sell to the base or parents who come to the county to visit children stationed at the base, he said.

"A lot of folks come back to this community," Hicks said. "The base generates a lot of relocation opportunities. We are doing a lot more with tourism than we have ever done."

Hicks said he supports efforts to bring in new manufacturing and industry to the area, but would like to see more attention devoted to the retail business sector.

"As a matter of fact, this community really needs someone that is out marketing the retail service sector just like the Wayne County Development Alliance is out marketing the industrial sector. It takes money to do that and we have to find that money somewhere. The small business sector is the fastest-growing part of our economy."

He pointed to the chamber's recently developed strategic plan as a measure of the new direction of the organization.

"I think as we initiate that plan, and as that plan continues, I think we are going to be able to give a lot better service to our members and increase the value of chamber membership," he said.

Over the past two years, the chamber has faced tough economic times and found itself in the same situation that many companies are in, Hicks said, and has had to make some cuts of its own.

"What has happened to us has happened to many other companies," Hicks said. "We have been very fortunate that it hasn't been any worse than it has. In the last two years, people have had to make a choice between paying the light bill, their employees, their health care, all of those kinds of things, and chamber membership and, unfortunately, you can't spend chamber membership."

"We took those things that were not creating lot of income for us and we cut those out temporarily until we can get ourselves back into a situation where we can kind of reconstruct them and make them better," Hicks said, adding that he expects the organization to be out of debt in about a year.

Hicks said he sees better times ahead.

"As the economy improves, I think next year will be a good year," he said. "We are on the right track."