An October agreement that the town would spend $10,000 on a community and economic development partnership with the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce came with a condition that the chamber periodically give updates on its efforts.
When Denise Nowell, the chamber’s executive director, gave the first of those updates Dec. 5, town leaders had little reply other than to thank Nowell for her work.
“We’re in a very good place,” Nowell told the Town Board at the conclusion of her report. “The town and the chamber have an agreement to work together for the good of this community, and that agreement is giving us a good path to follow.”
Only Mayor Bob Matheny had a suggestion for Nowell, regarding a part of the agreement calling for her to attend training courses on economic development.
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Nowell said she will soon begin the basics of economic development course at the UNC School of Government, which timing hasn’t allowed for since the agreement was made. Matheny noted there are other, related courses Nowell could also pursue.
“Not only by the (UNC) School of Government, but I understand there’s a very good economic course offered by BB&T,” Matheny said. “I just want to be sure that you keep working on those skills.”
In her report, Nowell reviewed key objectives of the agreement and what progress has been made toward those goals.
Nowell said the chamber’s maiden Zebulon Next Economic Growth Conference, held in October, was a step toward luring new businesses to town.
The event brought in local and regional speakers to weigh in on economic trends and conditions.
“Ninety-seven community leaders were in attendance from a wide range of business industries,” Nowell said. “Five local and regional businesses were contracted to provide the breakfast.”
More importantly, Nowell said, the event led to new or improved relationships with the chamber.
“Six businessmen and women, since that Zebulon Next event, have approached the chamber sharing their interest in working alongside the chamber as we engage in economic development,” she said. “So, seeing the results of an event like that, where community people actually get together, and then come say, ‘We want to be a part of it,’ that’s what we were looking for.”
The partnership is also intended to support local farming businesses, recognizing they are important contributors to the local economy.
Nowell noted five vendors from the Zebulon Farm Fresh Market had spaces reserved at the chamber’s recent Holiday Happenings pop-up vendor market.
And though May Day in Zebulon occurred before the agreement with the town was in place, Nowell made note of that event in her report. She said the chamber organized and hosted May Day in Zebulon with the understanding the partnership was in the works.
The chamber turned its annual 5K run date into May Day in Zebulon, promoting the 5K, the Farm Fresh Market, a Carolina Mudcats game and other events being hosted by local nonprofits, all on a single Saturday in May.
“One key point that bears mentioning was the spillover increased for the market,” Nowell said. “There was an increase in customers because people that concluded the race were very interested in buying fresh, local produce. So it was great not only that the event happened on the same day, but the partnership between the town and the chamber of being able to host it in proximity to one another was really great.”
As for the Farm Fresh Market, specifically, Nowell said the chamber has posted its weekly events online throughout the market season.
“As we’ve become stronger at promoting Zebulon and the chamber through social media platforms, we’ve just brought the Farm Fresh Market along with that, as well,” she said.
The chamber, with the help of town staff, had spent the whole weekend prior to Nowell’s report working to satisfy the third objective she addressed – promoting downtown through special events.
Holiday Happenings, held Dec. 3-4, consisted of the vendor market, caroling, a tree-lighting ceremony and the annual Christmas parade.
Saturday’s pop-up vendor market in downtown featured 31 businesses. Nowell said 19 of those businesses are either in or within 15 miles of Zebulon.
The chamber handed out gift bags, filled with vendor coupons and other incentives, to the first 150 people at the market.
Nowell said help from the public works department made vendor accommodations a breeze and that having Santa at the market in the afternoon brought out families, leading to a steady flow of customers for the vendors.
“We never know when one of these business owners might decide to do business in Zebulon and actually bring their whole business here, so I feel like this is a good opportunity for us to just make sure that we’re engaged,” Nowell said.
The chamber also gave downtown restaurants notice ahead of the event, and promoted the restaurants to the market vendors.
The evening caroling and tree lighting drew another 60-80 people downtown, Nowell said. Five churches and one local school participated in the caroling. Public works set up the tree and the Zebulon Downtown Beautification Committee wrapped presents to complete the holiday scene in front of Dallas Pearce Realty.
Sunday’s Christmas parade had 75 entries, up from 50 in 2015. Nowell said it would not have been possible without the town’s support.
“While the chamber is adept at organizing and hosting events, we are not equipped for all the resources and manpower needed to handle all that’s required for events of this magnitude,” she said. “So the continued partnership with Zebulon Public Works and the (Zebulon) Police Department were so critical – continue to be critical – for the success of an event like this.”
Nowell is scheduled to give another update on the chamber’s partnership with the town in March.