New Chamber chief optimistic about future
By COREY DAVIS
Sunday, August 13, 2017
It never crossed David Farris’ mind about exploring the opportunity to be the next president and CEO of the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce.
The position became open in May when former president and CEO Theresa Pinto, who held the post since 2012, retired to spend more time with her parents up north. Farris spent 40 years as vice president and general manager of the longtime family-owned dealership Farris Motors.
He also served on the boards and committees of several local civic groups and managed political campaigns for several elected officials in the area. Farris said Bill Lehnes, franchise owner of Chick-Fil-A, presented him with the idea to put his name in the hat after both crossed paths one night after Farris and his wife, Marianne, had finished dining.
Farris said he was looking at the prospects of serving a role on the staff of Gov. Roy Cooper and was reluctant about looking at the vacant position. But after mulling it over, Farris decided to go through the process that included more than 60 candidates. He was hired by the Chamber’s selection committee in June.
Farris said with the momentum happening in Rocky Mount and Twin Counties with the CSX’s intermodal project set to begin next year, the ongoing redevelopment of the Rocky Mount Mills, the city of Rocky Mount’s Event Center project, emphasis of revitalizing downtown and other possible economic developments looming made this an attracted time to be part of the positive vibe happening in the area.
“I would say if this opportunity presented itself a few years ago that this probably wouldn’t be something that I would’ve probably looked into,” Farris said. “But I feel fourtunate that I was given the option to join the Chamber and really excited about the possibilities ahead. I think it’s a great time and opportunity for Rocky Mount. This region has been good to my family and my former employees’ families. I thought it was important at this point of my career to try to be of value and help with the renaissance of our region in some small way.”
The Twin Counties is in position for the possibility of an influx of economic activity of industries looking to come into the area because of CSX. Farris said its vital that the Chamber do its part.
“We have to help prepare our region for the improvements that are coming in here and to make sure small businesses and our educational system and are community at large is geared up and ready,” he said. “We need to be more involved in partnering with education, which is a key to a strong workforce.”
Since last week, the Chamber membership stood at 587, Farris said. He added that total is a decrease of a 150 members when was he chairman about 11 years ago, and a big reason for the reduction was the downturn in the local economy.
Farris said one of his short-term goals is to increase membership to 700 with the long-term goal to have between 800 to 900 members.
“We don’t want members,” he said. “We want partners and investors — but in order to have those, we have to prove our worth. We can’t just be membership driven. We have to be a quality organization that they’re proud to be associated with and they understand the value of a healthy and growing Chamber.”
Farris expressed the importance of the Chamber increasing its visibility in the area and making sure businesses from both Nash and Edgecombe counties look at the Chamber as a viable option, which can help them build connections through network opportunity and using the Chambers’ resources to strengthen their businesses.
He added the Chamber will continue to re-evaluate its different events throughout the year see to how it can better serve its members. During his first event in charge, Farris was caught off guard by the first-time standing-room-only event at the Chamber’s Small Business Award banquet in June at the Rose Hill Conference Center in Nashville led by Desiree Dolberry, marketing coordinator for the Chamber.
Farris said Dolberry has thrown out an idea of having the Chamber sponsoring a women’s empowerment event in the future.
“We’re going to think outside the box,” he said. “I want the Chamber to be of growth, professionalism and having a growing staff. My hope is, I want people to think first of the Chamber when they’re expanding or moving into this region.”