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Here we grow!

Gates County Chamber of Commerce President Marie Allen presents Tommy Horton with a gift to praise his efforts to keep the organization’s web site updated. Staff Photo by Joe Cowart

EURE – Of what value are local Chambers of Commerce?

That one question produced several answers here last week as the Gates County Chamber of Commerce held its third annual Membership Banquet at Tarheel BBQ.

Richard Bunch, Regional Marketing Manager of the North Carolina Northeast Commission, served as the banquet’s guest speaker. That organization serves 16 northeastern counties in an effort to promote economic development and travel and tourism. The Commission provides no cost, confidential assistance to companies considering relocation or expansion in the region, and also supports efforts to increase visitor awareness of the many natural, historical, cultural and recreational opportunities that abound in North Carolina’s Northeast.

Bunch is a familiar face within the realm of Chambers of Commerce. He served as Director of the Edenton-Chowan County Chamber for 25 years.

“I took one step from there and landed with the Northeast Commission,” Bunch said. “It gives me a chance to go out and work with organizations such as this chamber here in Gates County to help them with job growth.”

Bunch admitted that North Carolina’s unemployment rate was too high. He noted job losses in manufacturing, the textile industry and other areas.

“If it wasn’t for the efforts such as our local chambers and the Northeast Commission’s Workforce Development program, we’d be in serious trouble,” he stated. “We have to work together as a team, all of us on the same page, to improve our communities, to improve our region.”

He said Gates County has the potential to grow, noting the planned improvements to US 13/158 as well as its close proximity to a fast-growing southside Virginia.

“I urge you to capitalize on that growth so near to you and bring it home to Gates County,” Bunch said. “You also need to capitalize on the experience of your local chamber of commerce. They can help make it happen.”

Bunch asked the question…what can chambers do for business people?

“Develop marketing strategies; develop an industrial park; develop a team theme; work with DOT for better highways to address transportation issues,” Bunch suggested.

He also urged members of the Gates County Chamber to seek professional office training for their businesses. Among those resources is the Employment Security Commission’s Small Business Technology program as well as numerous small business seminars offered by local community colleges.

“Make your people smarter so you can make more money,” he said. “Use the resources at your disposal. Get a (Chamber) member discount program or gift certificate program started…that’s good for business. Always use whatever incentives you can to promote shopping at home; that keeps money right here in Gates County.”

Bunch said he liked what he saw in Merchants Commerce Center, a new development coming to life along US 158 in front of Gates County High School, as well as the ongoing progress of a water/sewer project in that same area.

“You’ve made a commitment there; the developer has made a commitment there; there are lots of things that can happen there to make Gates County stronger,” he noted. “When Gates gets stronger, the region gets stronger, and the state gets stronger. You’ve got good leadership up here to make that happen and I pledge my help in working with your local officials.”

Bunch said that local Chambers can also play a vital role during a natural disaster.

“Say you have a hurricane; while your county commissioners and elected leadership will be busy taking care of the citizens, the Chamber needs to have a game plan in place to work with your local businesses to help them through this storm, to keep them informed of where to apply for disaster assistance….things of that nature,” he said. “Be ready to give them information and updates.”

Bunch also promoted the Northeast Commission and the help they can provide local counties, businesses and Chambers. He reminded officials of the Gates County organization of a frequent meeting of the Chambers of the Northeast held at the Commission office.

Gates County Chamber President Marie Allen also offered remarks at the annual banquet.

“We’re three years old now and I thank all our members for their support over that time,” she said. “We’re always looking for input on how we can improve. We welcome your calls.”

Allen said a brochure, produced by the local Chamber, promoting the county and its business partners is currently in production. The organization is also working on the release of a Chamber phone directory that will be updated and released in September. A membership meeting is scheduled for October.

Allen presented Tommy Horton with a gift for his efforts to keep the Chamber’s web site updated.

Membership plaques were presented to Chamber members and several door prizes were awarded to lucky ticket holders.

Local, regional and state dignitaries attended, including Democratic and Republican candidates for the November General Election. Two key figures in that pending political process were Republican Bill Cook, currently a member of the NC House of Representatives, and Democrat incumbent Stan White, both seeking the NC Senate District 1 seat, which now includes Gates County and seven other northeastern coastal counties.

All those in attendance enjoyed down home, country cooking from the staff at Tar Heel BBQ.

“We thank everyone for taking the time out of your busy schedules and joining with the Gates County Chamber of Commerce in celebrating another successful year,” said Chamber member Ray Freeman. “I want to personally thank our (Chamber) Board of Directors for all their hard work and dedication in making our organization what is it today. I appreciate everything that you do.”