“Focus on Laurinburg/Scotland County” recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dean Nichols – the 2016 Chair of the Laurinburg/Scotland County Chamber of Commerce, and discuss the chamber and the business community.
Focus on Laurinburg/Scotland County (FLSC): The chamber accomplished many things last year. What were some of the highlights?
Dean Nichols: Well I think the foundation we need to start with is the mission of the chamber which is to… serve its members and community, promote the area and the quality of life, and work cooperatively to create and sustain an environment necessary for strong economic growth. It is this last part, “to create and sustain an environment necessary for strong economic growth.” that we would all agree is the single, most important value any community organization can provide.
So as I look at how we helped accomplish that mission over the past year, I think of two critical factors in the equation: creating awareness and creating action.
FLSC: Let’s start with awareness. How has that increased in 2016?
Nichols: One of the most significant communication programs we embarked on in 2016 has been the “On The Road in Scotland County” programming that we are producing with Cecil Chandler and WPDE. “On The Road” is a partnership of the chamber, Scotland Health Care System, Travel and Tourism Board, Scotland County Schools, City of Laurinburg, and the Economic Development Corporation. We have just completed our first year of the program and have been able to showcase well over 100 area businesses, programs, and events. On The Road has reached over 1 million people in the WPDE and CW21 viewing area in addition to the 17 million that have visited the Grand Strand.
FLSC: And with increased awareness comes increased membership.
Nichols: Not just increased business membership, but increased community appreciation and understanding of what our community has to offer. Through this program, we are staring to see and hear positive responses and input from businesses, tourists, and residents who also now have a better idea of why Laurinburg/Scotland County is a great place to live, work and play. And yes, in 2016 we did have a strong year at the chamber, with 37 businesses joining the organization.
FLSC: With all of that is taking place, what is the single thing that you are most proud of from 2016?
Remember, first the awareness and then the action. Therefore, what I am most proud of is that last year our community saw 12 businesses expand and 14 others either move here or start-up. That tells me that these business leaders see Laurinburg as a strong, viable place for business. People don’t expand without having hope and confidence that the community will help make it work. Additionally, folks that are starting a new business are going all in with a community – and they trust Laurinburg as a place where they can achieve success. This business growth is attributable to a number of folks in the community and I am so proud and pleased that the chamber plays a part in this economic growth.
FLSC: That is great news and also leads to the next questions which is what role does the chamber play in helping to create jobs and economic growth in the community?
Nichols: There is a three-prong approach at the chamber. The first is how can we directly impact economic development and job growth. One way that the chamber assists economic development is with the Committee of 100. The Committee of 100 serves as a support catalyst for the Scotland County Economic Development Corporation in stimulating economic growth, by working with community partners to extend incentives beyond city and county support for potential investors for the county. Secondly, the chamber provides networking and visibility opportunities to our members to help them grow their businesses. It is not uncommon for chamber members to work together on business opportunities and refer business opportunities to members they know. We always say that you get out of the chamber what you put into it. And finally, the third prong is that our members work together to improve not only the business community in Scotland County but the quality of life for all residents by hosting community events like the Annual Laurinburg Christmas Parade, Oyster Roast, Laurinburg After 5 concert series, and candidates forums.
FLSC: Lastly, you recently handed over the reigns to John Ferguson who will serve as the chamber chair for 2017. What attributes does John bring to the position?
Nichols: John’s energy and insight sets him apart. Every time you see something positive in Laurinburg, John is a part of it and is usually a leader in making it happen. When you care and want to make Scotland County a better place it shows — and John cares. When he retired and came home after an incredibly successful business career, he immediately got involved. And he got involved for one reason – to make Laurinburg and Scotland County a better place. And that is the type of people that we need in our community. With his energy and his leadership, I think John will take the chamber to a whole new level and continue to make Laurinburg/Scotland County a great place to live, work and play.
Dean Nichols served as the 2016 Chair of the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce. Focus on Scotland is an effort by community leaders to make Scotland County a better place to work, live, and play.