By Madison Fisler Lewis
Dec. 9, 2014. Business owners and residents in Avery County know Susan Freeman, former Executive Director of the Avery County Chamber of Commerce as a kind, enthusiastic and hardworking partner in business, who truly raised the bar for what it means to hold that position. Under her tenure, the chamber enjoyed enormous growth, almost doubling its membership from the time she arrived until she left the High Country.
“When I first came to the chamber, I was not the director right away,” Freeman said.
Sue Freeman first arrived at the Avery County Chamber of Commerce as the events and membership director.
“My duties then were to build membership for the chamber and plan events to help grow membership. To ensure we had enough to meet the requests of the committees. I really walked in blind when I first started. I had done similar things before, but it was a lot of work in my new role.”
In 2009, Freeman was given the position as director.
“I always, always loved my job,” Freeman said. “Over the years it was really cool so see how things were different under the different chairs that we had. They were my ‘partners in crime,’ and it was neat to do things differently. Under Clint Carroway, for instance, we built the chamber and increased our numbers by 100 people.”
During her tenure, the chamber enjoyed enormous growth.
“We are up to 400 members now,” Freeman said. “When I first came, we only had about 220 members. When the economy went down in 2008, we had a lot of people rethink their businesses and a lot shut down, but still a lot remained and over the years we grew. That was great. We think that the chamber is a good thing for our members, it allows them to meet people from other businesses that they wouldn’t have met otherwise. People that could benefit their businesses. It offers networking that you wouldn’t find otherwise.”
Of all the changes that the chamber saw during her time there, Freeman says that the internet was the biggest change that she faced.
“The internet was really the biggest thing,” Freeman said. “Back when I started, emails were limited, print was still going back and forth. It was a different time back then. Social media wasn’t even a thing yet. That is how things really changed: outreach to social media and online marketing has been a huge benefit because you can stay in touch with your members more and it allowed us to have an interactive database. It was really a huge change for us.”
Looking back on her tenure at the chamber, Freeman remembers all of the fun times, hard work and teamwork.
“It has been neat and it has been such an honor,” Freeman said. “I have met so many nice people that have become lifelong friends. I came here from Pennsylvania and I didn’t know a soul when I got here. Meeting all of the people here was so neat and I will miss them all.
“It is bittersweet. After nine years, you watch it grow and nurture it as your own. You get to know all the businesses as friends. I think my job is what I miss the most, I was so passionate about what I did. I met great people and friends and I will miss that.”
Freeman and her husband have since relocated to Tarboro, which is about two hours from the coast.
“We are empty nesters and my husband has taken a job in Tarboro, so we saw this as a great opportunity for us,” Freeman said. “I would like to thank everyone for the support of the Avery County Chamber and seeing us through everything we took on together to achieve great things. I wish all of them success and want them to know that I will be praying for them.”
Freeman truly wishes all of her former staff well in the coming years and foresees the chamber doing well in the future.
“I think that the staff that I have left behind is great, and I am confident that they are completely capable,” Freeman said. “They know the expectations and saw the growth. I think that they will excel. When you have a new eye coming in, like Melynda [Pepple], I think she will put a new light on avenues that we started, and a different person can give you an entirely different perspective.”
As for Freeman, she hasn’t quite decided on her own future yet.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do, honestly,” she said. “George’s job has offered me the opportunity to rethink what I’m doing. I would like to get involved with the chamber in Tarboro, and I would love to get to know this new community.”