Season 2, Episode 15
Linda Cheek has been the President of the Wilkes County Chamber of Commerce since 1998 and she has been a fixture in the community ever since. She joined Carl for this episode of the Life in the Carolinas podcast to discuss the changes, economic shifts, and strong collaborative spirit she has observed in area in her 20+ years in the position.
Growing up the 8thof 10 children in an agricultural family, Linda was raised to appreciate the value of hard work and the benefits that can come from working together towards a common goal. Early in her adult life, she was in development and fundraising, where she realized her fervor for telling others about the projects she was passionate about and inviting them to be a part of that passion. She was running a United Way campaign in Wilkes County in 1998, when she was encouraged to apply for the newly vacant Chamber President position. At that time, the county had just gone through a Vision 20/20 process to take a look at where the county stood, so she had the opportunity to act on some of the data revealed.
What neither Linda nor anyone else realized at the time was that these initiatives would set Wilkes County up to face the very difficult economic times of the early 2000’s when Lowes moved its headquarters to Mooresville and NAFTA made it more advantageous for furniture and textile manufacturers to move their factories farther south. While many people had to relocate, another group remained in Wilkes County and had to face unexpected unemployment. Thankfully, there were programs in place to support those individuals and families to help them get back on their feet and be trained for new jobs.
Rather than be discouraged by the unfortunate turn of events, the Chamber began focusing its efforts on marketing Wilkes County as a great place to live and investing in leadership building within the workforce. The Leadership Wilkes program was started in 2000 for Chamber members who apply and are accepted. Participants are equipped with knowledge, resources, and strengthened relationships with one another and they emerge into the community with a new zeal for leading well.
Being a member of the Chamber of Commerce provides benefits such as brand building, credibility, recognition, networking, professional development opportunities, and comradery with other members. Many small business owners have seen their business grow significantly over the years due to their membership and participation in the Chamber, and they have seen firsthand what it is like to build trust with one another. Linda encourages listeners to get plugged in where you are, to serve, and to help others at all opportunities.
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