01/30/11 — Chamber: 2010 tough, but successful

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Chamber: 2010 tough, but successful

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 30, 2011 1:50 AM

The Wayne County Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet was a somewhat bittersweet moment for Steve Hicks, 67, who is retiring after nearly eight years as Chamber president.

The last two years have been marked by a Chamber that, like many other operations, has faced tough decisions brought on by the recession.

Yet Hicks, who helped guide the Chamber through a restructuring in response to declining membership, remains optimistic about the Chamber and the community.

"This community, I think, has more potential than any community that I have ever been in and I have been around South Carolina and Virginia," Hicks said following Wednesday's banquet at Lane Tree Golf Club. "I am just amazed what can be done when people come together. You can see just a little of that with this presentation that has been going on for years, years and years. I think this community has a knack for leadership.

"It is absolutely a mixed emotional time for me. I hate to leave these great folks. They are wonderful people. I am going to hang around from time to time. The thing I do look forward to is having time with my children and grandchildren and having some free time."

Despite the stress of the previous year, it was a successful one due to the Chamber's many volunteers, outgoing board chairman Julie Daniels told the audience. She thanked the approximately 305 volunteers who dedicated more than 7,000 hours to the chamber and community over the past year.

"The year began with some tough decisions in regards to the Chamber staff," she said. "While it is never a highlight to downsize the work force of an operation, for us it was a necessary decision. The results of this decision have allowed us to become more financially stable."

One of the most needed projects this past year was the start of renovations to the Chamber building, she said. The first phase of the project was the exterior of the building. All of the shrubs and trees were removed and new landscaping installed. The sidewalk was replaced and the brick porch was repaired, repainted and the roof replaced.

The next phase is under way and will focus on the lobby and conference rooms.

"While both of these areas have multiple purposes we will be partnering with the Travel and Tourism department to improve them for visitors in our area," she said. "Improvements will allow us the opportunity to have a place that we can be proud of and offer a much better first impression to our visitors."

She said that other successes over the past year include:

* PULSE (Prepare, Unite, Lead, Socialize and Empower) a committee of young (21-40) professionals formed to meet the challenges facing the community's young professionals

* Wayne Education Network whose programs include a seventh-grade career fair, Junior Leadership program, teacher job fair, Extreme BEE spelling bee competition, and grants to teachers for innovative and creative projects for students

* Military Affairs Committee that provided funds for receptions and dinners honoring visiting dignitaries; provided cash awards for people selected quarterly and annually by the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base wing leadership in recognition of outstanding achievement or performance; and honored six outstanding families during a Family Appreciation Banquet

* Travel and Tourism that has been focused on enhancing and promoting partnerships with other organizations to bring visitors to the community

* a membership campaign in March added more than 169 new members.

"As we begin 2011, I suspect it will be another challenging year for every community across the country," said incoming board chairman Ben Seegars. "However, I am excited about the opportunities on the horizon for our members, our community and our chamber.

"The Chamber will be implementing year two of the five-year strategic plan. Our focus will continue to be providing benefits to our membership through our efforts in education, business development, military affairs, travel and tourism, membership and financial stability."

Highlights of the plan include:

* developing a mentoring program to support small business development and to support larger existing businesses

* hosting the Wayne County Dancing with the Stars to raise funds for the Wayne Education Network and hosting the Junior Leadership program and seventh-grade career fair

* focusing on the upcoming Wings Over Wayne Air Show and working with elected and U.S. Department of Defense officials to expand the mission of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and emphasizing the base's importance to national defense

* increasing Chamber revenues by implementing a membership and sponsorship campaign

* completing renovations to the Chamber building which will become the official Wayne County Visitors Center.

"The last, but certainly not the least important item on the agenda is to hire a new Chamber CEO to replace Steve as he prepares for retirement," he said.

Seegars called the plan an "ambitious" one that would be executed by hundreds of dedicated community leaders and "an extremely limited staff."