Vance chamber, more than 400 businesses strong, celebrates 75 years

Jan. 31, 2013 @ 11:38 AM

Since times when tobacco, cotton and textiles were bustling industries in Henderson, business leaders have relied on one central outlet to jointly promote economic prosperity.

Today the Henderson-Vance Chamber of Commerce will celebrate 75 years of providing that service to hundreds of businesses as they host their 75th annual Membership Meeting and Banquet.

Although the economic growth sector in Henderson has changed over the years, the chamber’s commitment to advancing business forward has remained perpetual.

J.W. Jenkins Incorporated, an oil company founded in Henderson in 1915 was a chamber member and thriving business until 1999 when it was sold to Holmes Oil Company, Inc.

James W. Jenkins, founder of the company, was the second chairman of the chamber board in 1939. His grandson, Tommy Jenkins, remembers the company transforming from days of oil delivery in horse drawn carts, to producing a significant amount of gas used all over the state.

“When we first delivered oil, the company used horse drawn carts to deliver gasoline at that time,” Tommy said. “It grew from there. We were doing all of Fast Fare gas. We probably had about 70 all over North Carolina.”

During Tommy’s time as owner of J.W. Jenkins he used the chamber as a marketing tool and networking opportunity.
“It’s always important to deal with the local business people,” Jenkins said. “The chamber’s a good place for business people to get together and try to promote things in Henderson.”

Currently in Vance County, 424 businesses rely on the chamber as a way to network, formulate business initiatives and market their product or service.

That number has grown substantially since the mid-1980s when former board chair Michele Burgess remembers starting campaigns to boost members.

“There were 250 to 300 business members when I started membership campaigns using volunteers,” Burgess said. “We got our membership up. It’s always been a growing organization.”

Working to make Henderson more aesthetically pleasing was another project taken on by the chamber and partner organizations during Burgess’ time as chair.

“Major things on clean up, getting rid of buildings, started a long time ago, and we still need it today,” Burgess said. “If you go back and look at some of the old pictures you would see we have made a big difference.”

Always striving to make Henderson a welcome place to live, the chamber founded the Teacher Executive Institute, helping acclimate newly hired schoolteachers to the community.

“The chamber has worked with businesses in our community to provide the Teacher Executive Institute,” said Bob Fleming, an attorney at Barnett Properties, a chamber business partner.

“It’s an annual thing where a number of teachers have about eight or nine weeks of things they get to see in the community.

“The chamber’s leadership has been very prominent. They have been very proactive in promoting Henderson and Vance County as a place to do business.”

Greg Griggs, chamber president from 1998 to 2003, a time when Henderson and Vance County saw significant retail growth, remembers initiatives being made to support new businesses in the area.

“When I was there one of the things that started was Quarterly Business Outlook to promote new business by partnering with The Dispatch,” Griggs said. “Over the years there have been great local business leaders who have served, and I think it’s really a testament to all the people who have volunteered their time that it’s reaching 75 years.”

Former Henderson mayor of 24 years, R.G. “Chick” Young Jr., acted as an ex-officio board member at the chamber. He still actively encourages new members.

“I always encouraged businesses to join,” Young said. “It’s a great organization, and the beauty of it is, it’s committed to small business here in Henderson and Vance County.

“They have a large membership and are always welcoming new members.”

One of the chamber’s newest members, Semprius, became part of Vance County’s economic landscape in late September 2012.

Joe Carr, chief executive officer at Semprius, where the world’s smallest and highest efficiency solar modules are being manufactured, will be the keynote speaker this evening.

Carr played an instrumental roll in the design and innovation of patented cell technology being used to create high efficiency solar modules.

During the banquet, Randolph Wilson, the 2011 Citizen of the Year winner, will announce the 2012 Citizen of the Year. (The banquet will end after press time for The Dispatch but a story and photos will be available online at hendersondispatch.com on Friday, and in Saturday’s print edition.)

Hal Muetzel, 2013 Chamber of Commerce chairman of the board, and John Barnes, chamber president, will present an annual report highlighting the previous year’s accomplishments and identifying goals for the upcoming year.

Tem Blackburn, board chair during 1981, the centennial year for Vance County, recognized the chamber’s continual mission for economic success through business development.

“It’s the central agency for businesses to contact each other on issues of common interest, particularly in promoting things that would lead to economic growth,” Blackburn said.

“That has always of course been the number one priority of the chamber, so I’m sure it continues to serve that very same function.”

Contact the writer at alliemauser@hendersondispatch.com.