03/10/11 — New Chamber president setting sights on basics, then expansion

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New Chamber president setting sights on basics, then expansion

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 10, 2011 1:46 PM

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The Wayne County Chamber of Commerce held a meet-and-greet to introduce Marian Mason, the new Chamber president. Mrs. Mason, left, greets Jean Whitfield of 3HC Kitty Askins.

Just two priorities top the list right now for new Wayne County Chamber of Commerce President Marian Mason, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have big plans for her new employers. It simply means she first wants to make sure they are doing the essentials well before moving on to other projects, she said.

"I think we need to be careful to prioritize and make sure that when we focus on things, we accomplish them," she said. "You never want to overpromise and under-deliver. If anything, you want it the other way around."

And coming in, with only about three weeks on the job, the two areas she wants to focus on above all else are improving the Chamber's financial stability and improving its marketing.

In terms of the former, Mrs. Mason explained that she's concerned the Chamber has not been keeping an adequate fund balance to help it grow and invest in new programs and initiatives for both the community and its members. For example, she said, one thing she would like to see the Chamber offer eventually is a more comprehensive small business incubator to help local entrepreneurs. But, she added, that's something that requires funding to begin and maintain -- funding that currently is not available.

The other priority, she said, is making sure people know what the Chamber is doing and what it's involved in. For example, she said, most people don't know that the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. and the Wayne County Development Alliance were both originally Chamber committees. But nor, she said, do most people -- members and nonmembers, alike -- know that the current Military Affairs Committee and the Wayne Educational Network both fall under the auspices of the Chamber.

"The Chamber has done so much that people in Wayne County just don't see," Mrs. Mason said. "There's a disconnect between what the Chamber has done and actually is, and what people think we are."

And as part of those priorities, some specific goals that Mrs. Mason, along with new Chairman Ben Seegars and the rest of the board of directors, wants to work on include the continuation of renovations currently ongoing at the Chamber, as well as a review and enhancement of member benefits while recruiting new members; continuing to streamline operations; and solidifying partnerships with local businesses and schools.

Fortunately, said Mrs. Mason, who came to Goldsboro from the chamber in Baldwin County, Ala., she thinks Wayne County and the Chamber are well-positioned to grow and be successful.

When she began looking for jobs -- she said it was partly the heat and the humidity that convinced them to leave Alabama, and partly her husband was looking to change careers -- she said she looked at this area of North Carolina because of what she had heard about the Research Triangle.

Wayne County, she said, was appealing because of its proximity and likelihood for growth, both as businesses and industries look to be in the area, and as people look for places to live outside of the Raleigh area -- something Seegars also mentioned, especially with the coming completion of the U.S. 70 bypass around Goldsboro.

And in terms of the Chamber, Mrs. Mason said that despite the financial difficulties facing it in recent years, she thinks it is well positioned to grow and make a difference in the community.

"Chambers have tended to be business organizations. Today, chambers have taken on a much bigger role and are involved in all areas of a community. Education is a big one. It's very important our community have good schools because that's what's going to bring business in," she said. "I tell people the Chamber's role is to make its community a better place to live, a better place to work and a better place to play. And that's it in a nutshell, and it's really broad."

Wayne County, she said, is fortunate to have an active chamber and an enthusiastic board and an energetic group of volunteers, the chamber ambassadors.

"To me, I see an opportunity. I see potential. To me, change is exciting. Change is what keeps you living and going and on the cutting edge, and we're in the middle of a lot of change," she said. "Fortunately, we have a lot of very engaged volunteers and board of directors. I have not seen a board of directors engaged as much as this one. A lot of chamber have boards that are not as engaged. Here, people are rolling up their sleeves and going to work. That speaks volumes about this community and this county."

But she also said she's going to be relying on the input of all of the members.

"We have 700 members -- we're going to be calling them investors, because that's really what they are -- and they really are all my bosses. I want to know to know what are their priorities. It's really their chamber, I just work here," Mrs. Mason said. "Our name is the Wayne County Chamber, and I think it's very important that we're true to that and represent all of Wayne County."