Business owners and visitors to the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce will find new leadership in the president’s spot – but they will also find a familiar face. Tom Kies, the former executive director of the Downtown Morehead City Revitalization Association took on the role vacated by a retiring Mike Wagoner on June 27.
“I’m loving it – I’m the luckiest guy in Eastern North Carolina,” said Kies, smiling broadly. “I live in a great place, I have a great job and a wonderful life. This is really the icing on the cake.”
Bucky Oliver, chair of the Chamber Board of Directors said the search committee received 13 applicants in all, which they pre-screened and whittled down to the five people they interviewed.
“We had a very strong application pool, however, Tom’s interview and his knowledge of the industry and our community stood out.”
Kies spent five years leading the DMCRA and spent an additional five years as publisher and general manager of NCCOAST, publisher of the Business Journal, a magazine he helped launch. The roles not only gave him a vast knowledge of the Crystal Coast and the surrounding counties, but helped forge a variety of relationships with some of the area’s most prominent business owners and community leaders. In addition, he is a former chairman of the chamber of commerce board, former president of the Rotary Club, former marketing chair of the Crystal Coast Hospitality Association and sits on the board of directors of the Carteret County Economic Development Council.
“We’re blessed to have him,” Oliver added. “We couldn’t have made a better choice given his involvement and knowledge of the community. This gave us a particularly good head start in filling the very large shoes left when Mike retired.”
“It’s very similar to the work I was doing with Downtown Morehead City Revitalization – on a larger scale – but very similar, so it has made for an easy transition,” said Kies. “I have those key relationships established. For example if I have a question and I know Emerald Isle Town Manager Frank Rush may have an answer, I feel comfortable picking up the phone and giving him a call – that relationship is there. It’s really nice to be able to reach out to everybody on a much broader scale.”
Now settled in to this freshly painted office, Kies said he has several key areas that he is focused on in the months ahead. A strategic planning group will be looking at new sponsorship packages for chamber events and evaluating ways to add extra value for members. What do members need? The chamber’s primary purpose is to improve the economic climate of the county. So what can the chamber do to help area businesses achieve?
“We’re also taking a long look at ways that we can improve how we communicate with our members and the community – and we’ve already started to improve by maximizing our digital presence and increasing our social media. If you do it right, it’s amazing how many people you can reach.”
One of our biggest challenges is our seasonality – but Kies said he’s seeing a lot more shops and restaurants stay open all year round and it’s important that the chamber stresses shopping and dining locally so they can continue to thrive year-round.
“Our quality of life here is our greatest strength in attracting new business,” Kies said. “We have some strong business resources in place and a beautiful environment to do business.
Groups such as SCORE, the Small Business Center and the chamber, more than 900 members strong, are here to support new businesses and old. With the brand new hospitality and culinary building slated to go up at the college, we also have a great example of how devoted the county and the state are to our development and positive growth.”
Kies also mentioned the growing science and research facilities in Carteret County as another of its biggest assets and it’s hard not to imagine the role the Crystal Coast can play in the biotech industry as a whole.
The primary focus of the 2016 Strategic Business Plan includes:
- Implementing and maintaining internal and external communications programs of excellence.
- Broadening the economic base by fostering a healthy business climate.
- Enhancing the quality of education in Carteret County.
- Encouraging consumers to “Shop Carteret First.”
- Forging strong relationships with elected and appointed officials.
- Maximizing the return on investment for all chamber members.
- Recruiting new members and retaining existing members through increased participation and involvement in chamber programs, events, committees and task forces.
It seems Kies is already off to a running start. He stresses an open door policy – anyone who has questions, ideas or simply wants to introduce themselves is welcome to swing by the office for a visit.