Northampton Chamber celebrates growth

Published 6:00 pm Saturday, June 27, 2009

JACKSON — Despite economic downturn, the Northampton County Chamber of Commerce has grown in a number of ways.

On Thursday evening, a group of approximately 40 people celebrated that growth during the Chamber’s annual banquet, held at the Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center.

Chamber members were joined by government officials, Sen. Ed Jones, Rep. Michael Wray and County Commission Vice Chair Fannie Greene, for a night of celebrating local businesses. Entertainment was provided by Rich Square singing group, Captured Hearts. Melody Adams with the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center was the guest speaker.

“We had a very exciting year and we’re happy with what we’ve accomplished,” said Marshall Cherry, outgoing President of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

In the past year the Chamber has worked on developing committees, streamlining their application process and has seen an increase in its membership by 10 percent.

The latter Cherry commented is a feat in itself “especially during this economy.”

The Board of Directors voted to welcome Cindy Watson, Victoria Newcombe and June Warren onto the board. The three will replace Bill Little, Marshall Lassiter and Sharon Hill.

The Board of Directors also saw a change at the helm as Cherry rotated off the board as President. Gene St. Clair will assume the role for the next year.

Chamber Executive Director Judy Collier acknowledged the organization’s members as well as the county government as “without the support of the county the Chamber would not be here.”

Conway-based business, Watson Builders, was named Business of the Year.

Collier said that honoree is selected based on the support the business has given to the Chamber, community and the town they are located in.

Owners Art and Cindy Watson were honored with a plaque for the recognition.

Mayor Brian Bolton was presented with the Municipal Support Award for the town of Conway.

Collier offered an encomium for outgoing board member Little, who was also recognized.

“He has been with us all way,” she said referring to Little’s work with the Chamber since its inception in 1995.

Lastly, Collier honored outgoing President Cherry for his work.

“I’m still going to be calling on him,” she said.

Wray and Jones offered words of encouragement to the crowd concerning the economic recession.

“It’s tough times and everybody knows that, but we’re going to get through this folks,” said Wray.

Wray commended the work done by the Chamber in encouraging membership.

“People don’t realize how important small businesses are,” he said.

Jones said the only way to get the economy back is to get people jobs. He also noted the adversity could bring about humbleness.

“We need to go back to experience hard times to appreciate the good,” he said. “It’s going to hurt before it gets better.”

Adams, director of the Rural Center’s Building Reuse and Restoration Grants program spoke about what the non-profit organization can do for existing businesses and those looking to start their own business.

The Rural Center’s mission is to develop, promote and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of those North Carolinians living in the state’s 85 rural counties.

Adams said the Rural Center operates a multi-faceted program that includes conducting research into rural issues; advocating for policy and program innovations; and building the productive capacity of rural leaders, entrepreneurs and community organizations.

Adams spoke on several of the programs, including microenterprise loans, water and sewer grants, business loans and building reuse and restoration initiative.

“We put vacant buildings back to work,” she said about the latter. “A vacant building in your community is a liability.”

Adams said the initiative assists communities in transforming empty buildings into economic reality. Grants help local governments prepare the buildings for reuse by new and expanding businesses.

There are two grants available; predevelopment grants of $25,000 help cover the cost of an initial study or other activity necessary to secure commitments from a business or investors. Development grants of up to $400,000 are awarded to projects ready for renovation and must be matched by at least an equal amount of private and public funds. Awards are limited to local governments in rural counties or the most economically distressed urban areas, with priority given to towns with fewer than 5,000 people.

Adams said looking over a map of the state and the dots that represented where a grant had been rewarded, she realized she has never awarded a grant in Northampton County.

“Let’s take this opportunity tonight and tell friends and neighbors with vacant buildings about the information (presented tonight),” she said. “Let’s work together and get a dot in Northampton County.”

For more information about the Rural Center: visit