Sunday, June 28, 2020
Making connections was on my mind in early 2005, when my wife Freda and I were thinking of moving to Belmont to be closer to our daughter and grandson.
I learned the value of connections as a rookie reporter in the early 1970s at the Morganton News Herald. Later, as editor and publisher at The Shelby Star, connections became even more important.
It was being in business for myself after leaving the newspaper field when I discovered connections often made the difference between survival and failure in the business world, and I had made many of those connections through my association with the Cleveland County Chamber of Commerce.
So, as we began learning about Belmont, I started looking for the Belmont Chamber, because that’s where I knew I could make connections quickly in a new community.
After a little searching, I found the Chamber and almost instantly connected with a small circle of dedicated Chamber officers who began connecting me to a rapidly growing group of equally enthusiastic community leaders.
Soon I began what would be the capstone to my 48-year career, and making connections for the Belmont (four years later to become Montcross Area) Chamber of Commerce became a full-time passion. Those connections grew from a handful to the 84 members of the Chamber in spring of 2005, to 169 by the end of that year, to 544 members today, and to thousands of individuals connected to those members, plus thousands of other friends of the Chamber and local, state and national leaders.
As I began to venture beyond Belmont to Cramerton, Lowell, McAdenville, Mount Holly and Stanley, it became clear to me that more needed to be done than just working to connect people and businesses. Our cities and towns weren’t talking with each other. Ancient grudges over forgotten incidents still were being harbored. If eastern Gaston County was going to withstand the influx of new residents stemming from Charlotte’s explosive growth, our communities had to be better connected so they could communicate, collaborate more and cooperate to solve their mutual challenges and seize their opportunities.
That’s when the Montcross Area Chamber found its mission. It wasn’t to have the most members, the fanciest offices, the fattest bank account. It was to be a champion for BUILDING BRIDGES; the kind of bridges that connect people, businesses and communities and enable them to trust each other, partner on projects, share ideas and succeed together.
We changed the Chamber logo to include the names of all six cities and towns in the Riverbend and South Point townships. We developed an annual visitor and newcomer welcome guide featuring all six towns on every cover and information on all of them inside. We created advisory director seats on the Chamber Board for the mayor or manager of all six municipalities, and scheduled time at every Board meeting to hear about the accomplishments and issues in every community. We scheduled periodic breakfast meetings where the mayors and managers held roundtable discussions, often identifying new ways they could work together to obtain better outcomes for their citizens.
It wasn’t long before the fences and defenses separating our communities began breaking down, and a new spirit of cooperation began to grow. The benefits of that we see every day in the tremendous vitality of all of our Montcross area communities today, even in the way they are supporting each other in the health and economic battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
As I prepare to retire on June 30 for the sake of my health and love for my family, officially concluding this amazing chapter of my working life, it’s the bridges we’ve helped build and the fences we’ve helped break down that will mean the most to me and that I always will consider the greatest contribution of the Montcross Area Chamber of Commerce during the past 15 years.
Thank you to every Chamber member, former member, officer, Board member, volunteer, staff member, advisor and friend of the Chamber with whom I’ve had the honor of taking this incredible journey.
I’ve avoided mentioning names because I couldn’t list the thousands who should be recognized, but I cannot fail to thank Teresa Rankin and Elizabeth Atterberry.
Teresa has carried the VP title for the 13 years we have been teammates in this venture. And I’ve always known it is her love for Chamber work, her strength of character, her caring for people and her ability to see clearly the obvious solution to the thorniest of problems that has formed the bedrock of our organization.
And to Liz, who became my friend and greatest Chamber volunteer on my first day in Belmont in 2005, and has worked shoulder to shoulder with the Chamber staff on every major project and just about every event for all these years, we could not have done it without you.
I look forward now to becoming a loyal member of the Montcross Area Chamber volunteer team and helping build a few more bridges.
2005 - 2020