Chamber of Commerce discusses area's business future

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 09:17 PM

When Tom Snell was chairman of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce's board of directors last year, he wanted it to focus on being four C-words: convener, challenger, communicator and cheerleader. As Brad Simpson takes over the top spot this year, he's looking to add a fifth word: competitor.

Simpson said at a dinner Thursday night that Lee County's resources — resources as varied water access, quality schools and human capital — give the county and its businesses the chance to become a competitor not just in the state or the South, but globally.

"But we must work together," Simpson said. "We cannot afford to continue pursuing divided agendas."

Simpson and Snell made their remarks at the Chamber's annual Membership Meeting and Fundraiser, which had a small yet lively crowd as CEOs clinked wine glasses with politicians and veterans compared the medals pinned to their tuxedos and swapped stories.

Several dozen people from the local business community — bankers, manufacturers, communications specialists, doctors and more — came out to support the Chamber, as did representatives of Lee County Schools and the governing bodies of Sanford, Broadway and Lee County. Sen. Ronald Rabin, who represents Harnett, Lee and parts of Johnston counties, was also in attendance.

The focus of Simpson's speech was on talks surrounding the merger of the Chamber and the Lee County Economic Development Corporation. He said that in the past, thanks to a number of public and private voices promoting businesses in Sanford and Lee County, the message had become muddled and the approach had become inefficient. But with increased collaboration between the groups — which is being actively encouraged by the Lee County Board of Commissioners — Simpson said the voice of business supporters in Lee County will become notably less fragmented.

Noting that individual businesses can't operate as they did five or 10 years ago because of the financial crisis, he said it's also time for business cheerleaders — to use one of Snell's terms — to reevaluate their methods. He said he welcomes input on how the local business community can be more competitive, how it can increase the quality of education and how it can continue to make Lee County a more attractive place for both businesses and people to move. But that can't be done entirely by the private sector, he said.

"This entity will have the weight of our business community behind it," Simpson said. "It must also have the weight and support of our governments. ... They must do their part."