EC Chamber touts veterans group, brew pub

020219 Chamber Annual Meeting
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Brian Matson delivers the keynote speech at the 108th Annual Dinner Meeting of the Elizabeth City Chamber of Commerce.

020219 Chamber Annual Meeting

By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, February 3, 2019

A veterans' group and Elizabeth City's first microbrewery won top honors in Elizabeth City Thursday night, when the Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its 108th Annual Dinner Meeting.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6060 won “2018 Nonprofit of the Year” and Ghost Harbor Brewing Company won “2018 Business of the Year,” Chamber President Holly Staples announced at the dinner that drew hundreds to the Kermit E. White Center at Elizabeth City State University. The event also recognized the Chamber's 2018 Ambassador of the Year, Linda Cox of the “eyecarecenter,” for outstanding support of the Chamber.

The event also featured pointers in online marketing from Brain Matson, of TwoSix Digital, of Brighton, Mich., who discussed how businesses could get the most out of Facebook, Google and other platforms.

In presenting the award to VFW 6060, Staples told the audience VFW 6060 serves the community and celebrates veterans year-round, including through coordinating Memorial Day and Veterans Day events, providing color guards, and visiting schools, nursing homes, churches and hospitals. They also help connect veterans to benefits and resources, deliver meals to disabled veterans, and “their honor guard volunteers hundreds of hours throughout the year to present military honors at veterans' funerals,” she said.

After a standing ovation, retired Army Staff Sgt. Dan Serik accepted the award on behalf of the post.

“We try to lead this community in our patriotism and promoting awareness of the deeds and sacrifices of our veterans,” he said. He also encouraged more people to attend the VFW's ceremonies; they draw hundreds of people, but thousands live in Elizabeth City and have benefited from veterans, he noted.

“Patriotism, I believe, is the key to a great community,” he said.

Serik also invited the audience to attend an appreciation day for first responders on May 4 at the post.

In choosing Ghost Harbor as business of the year, the Chamber recognized it not only its entrepreneurship, but its community impact, Staples explained. She praised the business for its passion and warm atmosphere, embodying the adage “if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.”

She also said it's supported various nonprofits, including the Albemarle Area United Way, and played a major part in improving the downtown, specifically Pailin's Alley which has grown as a go-to spot for food, drink, and entertainment.

“Their vision has changed the dynamic of a key part of the city,” she said.

Ghost Harbor's owners, Thomas and Tabitha Reese, took the stage to applause and cheers – particularly from their employees, who broke out into the “Baby Shark” kids' song just for a laugh.

Thomas Reese said their success began more than two years ago; at the start, he joked, “we didn't have enough money to open a lemonade stand, much less a brewery.” Their mindset has always been “say yes, and then find a way to make it happen,” he added.

He also thanked his staff, and said they're thrilled to be part of the downtown.

In a followup interview Friday, the Reeses also encouraged other new businesses to be active in the community. Supporting community causes and events may seem like a challenge for a new business, but that outreach proved key to building and marketing the company, they explained.

In recognizing Cox as ambassador of the year, Staples first explained the Chamber's ambassadors act as liaisons to businesses and otherwise volunteer to help the Chamber. Cox was the most active ambassador by far last year, Staples said, and doesn't seem to be slowing down.

“She was here before I was” to help set up the dinner on Thursday, Staples noted.

Business owners also got some practical advice Thursday. In his presentation, Matson explained the power of Facebook as an incredibly powerful marketing tool. He also said Facebook needs to be understood as a paid platform; beyond just maintaining a Facebook page, business owners can spend a little to steer their products and services towards potential customers.

Thursday's meeting also allowed the Chamber to review 2018, when 2018 President Lauren Spruill explained the Chamber kept up with its events and services despite turnover in staff, including when former President Mike Hindenach left for another job.

Staples has long worked for the Chamber and has proven a natural fit as president, she said.

The Chamber also introduced its president for 2019, Dan Prentiss, an attorney with Hornthal, Ellis, Riley and Maland.

In a followup interview Friday, Staples said the Chamber grew to about 475 members in 2018, and it continues serving members through networking events and other services. In one new program, she also said it's collaborated with other local Chambers to offer the Albemarle Leadership program over the next six months. The topics are of interest to more than just business leaders, as she said they will touch on agriculture, education, legislation and more.