Similar things drew Zebulon Town Manager Joe Moore and Zebulon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Denise Nowell to the roles they began about two months apart last summer.
Since that time, they’ve learned they also have common views on how they can help the town as it grows, in ways that are desirable to the town.
Nowell liked what she saw in the opportunity to lead a chamber of commerce in a town where people seemed anxious about the growth at their doorstep, but cautious about its arrival.
“I saw a community that wanted to be in the know about the type of growth that’s coming,” Nowell said. “I feel like, what a gift it was that I got to come here when I did at this time because the community was ready for some amazing things. Then, before even knowing (Moore), knowing there was an opportunity for a strong relationship between our organizations and that not only do we want that but that the community wants that.”
What appealed to Moore was that it was obvious to him that Zebulon residents care about their town and want to preserve its culture.
“I could see Zebulon had good bones,” Moore said. “Not just good infrastructure and parks and so forth in place, but just good people who were good minded who had put in a lot of work to build a good community.
“How I fit into that, I felt in my role working with the town I could work with other groups – whether they be nonprofits, generally, or specifically the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce.”
A natural partnership
As Nowell familiarized herself with the area, she said she quickly discovered “all these pockets of energy” that existed among local businesses and residents. She said they had all kinds of ideas for generating buzz over community and town affairs, but needed a way to tie it all together.
The good news, Nowell said, is that both the town and chamber boards have shown an interest in helping facilitate that synergy.
“I know that for a chamber to do what it is designed to do, there has to be a strong connection with the town,” Nowell said. “To be able to work together, that’s how we’re going to be able to accomplish what we want to accomplish for the community.”
Several times in his first year, Moore has made the point that the town can’t do it all. In any community-building endeavor, he said, partners are essential.
“Generally, those (partners) are the private sector and nonprofit – secular- and faith-based,” Moore said. “You need all those different sectors collaboratively working together. The chamber of commerce is a natural fit for the top group to partner with because they are not only the nonprofit to call on for certain events but they are also the ears and voice of the business community.”
Nowell said that applies to all businesses in town, not just those that are members of the chamber.
“How the chamber works with businesses impacts the business community and the residential (community),” she said. “That makes up a lot of what happens in terms of success in the town and how it moves forward.”
All part of the plan
The policies and goals in the economic development section of the long-range Zebulon Comprehensive Plan call for protecting and enhancing the commercial landscape in town.
By strengthening ties with the chamber, Moore said the town has a better chance at reaching its goals.
“(The chamber) would be a more effective agent than the town in implementing and achieving these goals, but doing this would also help the chamber achieve its goals,” he said.
He said the $10,000 commissioners recently appropriated for a community and economic development partnership with the chamber is a first step in turning some of the views he and Nowell share into tangible results that people can see.
“That’s one good way to make anything tangible,” Moore said of green lighting funds. “The next thing is for the town and chamber to work together to determine where that money gets spent to achieve the goals of both parties. What do we specifically do – how fast and aggressive do we go in particular area? That’s something our boards haven’t spelled out yet. For now, it is how to do it, and some of those things could focus on downtown but also other areas.”
The funding for the partnership comes from a portion of town revenue that Moore described as the best representation of sales tax activity in Zebulon.
If the chamber succeeds in its economic development goals, the ideal result will be more sales activity benefiting the town and more revenue flowing back into the fund. That will be one way town leaders can measure the success of the partnership.
Not all business
It’s easy when talking about economic development to think about businesses and forget that people are what keep their doors open.
Moore and Nowell both stressed the residential side is an equal component of Zebulon’s growth outlook. They said it’s a matter of where you want which kind of growth.
“We know the design (of the partnership) is to promote the community through ways that impact the business community and residential community,” Nowell said.
Nowell used the Zebulon Greenway Master Plan and the areas it has identified for future trails as an example of driving residential growth to desired locations in town.
Moore said it’s a chicken or the egg situation, though, since much commercial development is spurred by residential growth and vice versa.
“Even though this partnership may produce some improvements in the business community, it also benefits the residential side,” Moore said. “You can drive residential and the quality of it by driving the commercial business.”