Despite serious growth in and around Clayton, new Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce president Frank Bernard has faith Smithfield will remain the epicenter of Johnston County.
“If Clayton grows, Smithfield grows; we all grow,” Bernard said. “I think Smithfield has always been the epicenter, and I believe we’ll continue to leverage our core strengths to maintain viability as that epicenter.
“But I also submit to you that our core partnerships with Clayton and other key areas in the state and local community, Smithfield will evaluate these partnerships and look to leverage appropriately. To me, in Johnston, Smithfield will always be the epicenter, the prime and key player.”
Bernard, a Fayetteville native, comes to the Smithfield chamber from an executive role with Walmart, most recently as a vice president of operations compliance and U.S. ethics and compliance for the company. He has also been a regional general manager for Walmart, managing Kentucky and Southern Indiana, a $9 billion piece of the company, and was formerly with the U.S. Department of Labor and Housing and Urban Development as a compliance officer.
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Bernard attended the Air Force Academy and later received his bachelor’s degree from N.C. Central University in Durham, where he played football. He met his wife, Kenly native Thess Bernard, while attending NCCU, and while he was earning his law degree from Florida Coastal in Jacksonville, she earned her doctorate from Iowa State.
“We had a commuter marriage those first few years,” Bernard said.
As the leader of Johnston County’s biggest chamber of commerce, Bernard will replace longtime president Ricky Childrey who retired at the end of last year after 30 years in the organization. Bernard’s first day will be Feb. 20.
“At the end of the day, the main thing for me is just being extremely excited to work with the citizens of Johnston County and the businesses of Johnston County,” Bernard said. “It’s not lost upon me the significance of being able to follow a person who put in 30 great years as a past president. I have very big shoes to fill. I’m excited about getting out there and getting the entire community involved.”
So far, Bernard’s bosses have been the federal government and the world’s largest retailer. But he dismissed the idea that leading Smithfield’s business community might in some way be him slowing down.
“I don’t see it as a change of pace; when you’re committed to greatness, it’s a full-time job,” Bernard said. “It takes all of the energy, emotion and engagement as it took when I was a compliance officer. I have a responsibility to have the same energy and enthusiasm. There’s a perception that problems in different environments aren’t as complex, but sometimes the problems are more complex at the chamber’s level. I don’t see this as a slow down. It certainly won’t be from my perspective.”
Though it was only an hour to the northeast, Bernard said he wasn’t all that aware of Smithfield and Johnston County when he grew up in Fayetteville. But when he came to Kenly to meet his wife’s family, he said he never met a stranger in Johnston County.
“It was just really, really great people,” Bernard said. “I never met a stranger here; that’s one of the things that excited me about the job. It always starts with the people. If you’re going to be successful and effective, you need to be aligned with really great people.”
In recent years, Clayton has surpassed Smithfield as Johnston’s population center, Bernard said the infrastructure, know-how and geography that built Smithfield into what it is continue to be powerful assets. He acknowledges that Smithfield and Selma have important questions and that the business community has a stake in education and housing in the town.
“The business community is hungry and ready to grow,” Bernard said. “The geography of the Smithfield Selma area, its points of egress and ingress primely leverage the overall location and make a difference in the business community.”
Bernard said he saw the chamber job as a way to blend all the things he’s learned so far in his career.
“It’s the right challenge at the right time,” Bernard said. “All the great skills I’ve been able to acquire, I can put to use for a great organization in the Smithfield-Selma chamber.”