Chamber remains city’s rallying point
Nick Sojka Contributing Columnist
What do Laurinburg After Five, the Committee of 100, The Green Committee, and the Christmas Parade all have in common? They are all programs initiated by the Chamber of Commerce.
The Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce traces its roots back to 1939, and the incorporation of the “Laurinburg Merchants Association and Chamber of Commerce.” For many years, from World War II, through the late 1940s and into the 1950s, the Chamber functioned primarily as a way for Laurinburg merchants to promote shopping and commerce in Laurinburg, and as a local credit bureau. However, as the 1950s drew to a close, and the space race and the Kennedy administration ushered in a new era of competition, innovation, and rapid economic change, the Chamber became our community’s primary vehicle for industrial recruitment. The Chamber’s work resulted in an unprecedented influx of new industries and steady factory jobs which raised local incomes and standards of living far above those enjoyed during the previous farm-to-market era. From 1960 into the 1980s, the Chamber and our community enjoyed an unprecedented string of industrial recruiting successes, beginning with the Ingram Watch plant, and culminating in “trophy” recruiting successes such as Libby Owens Ford and Abbott Laboratories.
Thanks to NAFTA, global competition, and many other economic forces beyond our control, those days are past, but your Chamber has successfully reimagined and refocused itself in order to remain a key player in economic development and in enhancing the overall quality of life in our community.
Primary responsibility for industrial recruitment now rests with the Scotland County Economic Development Corporation, and its Executive Director, Greg Icard, but the Chamber plays a critical supporting role in marketing the community, providing “boots on the ground” at public events and industrial announcements, maintaining community visibility with government leaders in both Raleigh and Washington, D.C., and most recently, providing the EDC with a “basket” of recruiting incentives through the Committee of 100.
The Committee of 100 was formed during 2013 under the leadership of Lee Howell of Scotland Motors, and it has been recognized by North Carolina’s Secretary of Commerce, Sharon Decker, as providing a new model for local recruiting incentive programs. Unlike other “Committee of 100” type groups around the state and the nation, our committee is not strictly a fundraising vehicle and a means for assembling purely financial recruiting incentives. Rather, our Committee of 100 is based on in-kind pledges of goods and services by local merchants, businesses, and professionals in order to demonstrate our community’s overall commitment to industrial recruitment, and to provide Greg Icard and the EDC with access to goods and services that any job-producing industry or business thinking of locating here would love to have in order to ease their transition and speed their ramp-up of production. Pledged goods and services include meals for workers, free warehouse space, hotel rooms, an executive apartment, job training, and more.
In terms of marketing, the Chamber proudly flies our community’s flag at North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and North Carolina Department of Commerce functions throughout the year, as well as at regular meetings with legislators and staff in both Raleigh and Washington, D.C. We assist with the planning and execution of public events relating to industrial recruitment, and our website is a primary portal through which potential newcomers and investors can access important community information and resources. The Chamber office on Atkinson Street provides a friendly, accessible brick and mortar entry point for persons who wish to do business here or simply want to learn more about our community.
In terms of quality of life, the Chamber provides an impressive array of events and services which provide recreational and cultural opportunities for our citizens, networking opportunities for our Chamber members, and opportunities to attract visitors and potential newcomers and new investors to our community. The newly enhanced Laurinburg After Five concert series, featuring well-known regional beach bands, and located at the Morgan Recreation Complex, draws beach music fans of all ages during the warm weather months. The annual Chamber Oyster Roast and the Chamber-sponsored Laurinburg Christmas Parade provide important opportunities for fellowship and fun. The Chamber Green Committee provides impressive organization and infrastructure for individuals and groups who want to give back to our community by improving our “curb appeal” by engaging in the important work of community beautification and litter control.
As the Chamber launches its 75th year, it remains the natural hub, the central rallying point, for folks from all walks of life who want to make a real, tangible difference in our local economy and our quality of life. We are all in this together, and it is only through the dedicated efforts of countless community volunteers that the Chamber can succeed in its work of moving our entire community forward.
This need for everyone to pull together and grow our economy is why the Chamber (Tonia Stephenson) , along with Scotland County Economic Development Corporation (Greg Icard), and the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority (Cory Hughes) have stepped forward to champion the Target Laurinburg initiative. The Chamber’s roots are in fostering commerce and in improving the economic well-being of the business community and supporting efforts to make Laurinburg and Scotland County a great pace to live, work and play. This mission helps fuel the larger Target Laurinburg movement.
Although we have had more than our fair share of economic challenges and disappointments in recent years, I believe that you will find that the energy and spirit of volunteerism which flows through the Chamber is infectious. As you reflect on what this new year may bring for Laurinburg and Scotland County, I invite you, your friends and neighbors, your church friends and co-workers, your youth groups and scout groups, to join us at the Chamber and work with us and our committees to make our community what we want it to be and to help others Target Laurinburg.
Nick Sojka is a Law Partner with Williamson, Dean, Williamson & Sojka, LLC in Laurinburg and is the 2014 Chairman of the Board of the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce.
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