Neal Padgett, the president of the Garner Chamber of Commerce, said the only bad thing about hiring outstanding people is that pretty quickly other people recognize your employees are exceptional and want to hire them.
Kaitlin Norris, a chamber intern, became the second Garner chamber staff member in the last six months to be named as the head of another chamber. She is returning home to head the Clinton-Sampson County Chamber of Commerce.
Denise Nowell earlier this year left the Garner chamber to become the head of the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce.
Rachel Chavez, who interned alongside Norris, is leaving also. The 2014-15 Miss Garner is using her pageant scholarship earnings to enter graduate school at UNC-Wilmington to study Public Administration.
Chavez and Norris the experience they gained at the chamber was vital to their new pursuits.
“My interview was about two hours and basically I talked about what we had done at Garner,” Norris said. “They were amazed and really interested in pursuing some of the things that we do here.”
Padgett said one of the things that distinguishes the Garner chamber from many others is the number and quality of events. For starters, the Garner chamber sponsors two member gatherings a month.
Add to that, a women’s conference, a business awards banquet, a business expo, a business news seminar and a taste of Garner with a raffle.
And the chamber might be best known throughout the state as the producer of Broadway Voices, a concert series that brings the best performers on Broadway to Garner.
“We were at a meeting with other chambers of commerce and they kept talking about all the things that we do,” Chavez said. “They wanted to know how we could do all that with the equivalent of three full-time employees.
“The experiences I had here really opened doors for me. And the thing about working here is that I was trusted to take an event and do it. There is a lot of trust.”
Norris and Chavez said they were mentored by Padgett and by his former assistant Faye Gardner, who died from cancer last year.
“I remember Faye telling me that if you were going to try to do something and you ask for support you are going to be told ‘No’ a lot of times,” Chavez said. “Everybody can’t be involved in everything. You learn quickly that ‘No’ doesn’t mean it’s a bad project to pursue. You just have to keep working.”
Norris said working with Padgett was an education.
“The Garner chamber does all of these first-class events and he is constantly trying to improve each one of them,” she said. “He always is striving to do things better or find ways to serve our membership in a new way.”
Padgett said the turnover has been remarkable. In less than a year, he has lost two stalwarts – Nowell and Gardner – plus the two interns – Norris and Chavez.
Office manager Terri Nielsen still is on board and Padgett believes he will add some extraordinary new staff.
“This a great community,” he said. “People love this town and want to work to make it even better. I think we are going to continue to have outstanding people on the staff.”
Tim Stevens: firstname.lastname@example.org