Archived Opinion

When success is about making communities better

When success is about making communities better

Sometimes an idea hatches first as a kind of mental knot that doesn’t reveal itself but causes me a bit of anxiety as I try to unravel what’s eating me. When that happens I try to slow things down, open my mind, and almost always the thought will reveal itself. 

I was driving home Monday night from the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s Elected Officials Reception, and I knew something from the night’s event was running around my brain that I couldn’t put a finger on.

Every year the chamber hosts this get together — save for the Covid era — that brings together elected leaders at the local, state and federal level that represent Haywood County. It provides the chamber the opportunity to thank those leaders for their service, a chance for members to meet and talk with those leaders, and an opportunity to very briefly go over the legislative agenda that the chamber thinks will help its members.

As a young man, I shunned tradition and had no thoughts of ever becoming an entrepreneur. In those years, I had no idea the outsized role that business organizations like chambers of commerce play in communities large and small. As a history buff, I certainly knew that craftsmen had formed guilds and trade associations since medieval times to bolster their profits and license practitioners of particular skills, so I knew pro-business organizations had a long history in capitalist economies.

But it took getting involved locally to see how that really works. I’ve been involved in the Haywood Chamber at various levels for more than 20 years — since we started The Smoky Mountain News — and over that time I know for a fact that the contacts and friends I’ve made and many of the professional relationships that have grown directly because of the chamber have helped my own business succeed. I can also attest to the fact that many others have shared similar stories. If you’re a local business depending on local sales and employ local workers, it just makes sense. Chambers are all about local, local, local.

One of those I spoke with at the chamber reception was a man who has a made a name for himself as a local government watchdog. He is known to poke and prod and piss a lot of people off, including me, at times. We disagree about a lot, but we chatted amicably Monday night, perhaps learning a bit about each other.

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But the fact is he was there, the first time I’ve seen him at a chamber event. As I thought of all those gathered, the knot unraveled as I pulled my truck into my neighborhood. It’s so rare these days that we get so many people who disagree politically in the same room, be it Democrats or Republicans, progressives or conservatives, activists or quiet movers and shakers, those who like what the school board is doing or those who don’t, business owners who want Medicaid expansion or those who don’t, and on and on.

I hate labels. When I hear people say Democrats want a socialist/Marxist country, I wonder what the hell that even means. It’s just wrong. When someone says Republicans hate all government spending, I wonder what the hell that even means (like if you have an “R” you don’t want roads, schools, the military?). 

My point is that a lot, if not most, of the negative stereotypes people attached to party labels don’t hold up when you get a bunch of businesspeople, political leaders and workers in a room where they can talk face to face. Sure, you can still disagree, but all of a sudden it’s a human, a person, you’re talking to and not just some idea of a person who you try to stereotype.

Organizations like chambers of commerce help bridge these differences. As mentioned by all the speakers last night, the Haywood Chamber is a non-partisan organization. Its mission is to promote the businesses in Haywood County and help them succeed, not to pander to political activists. That mission — like that of many of the chambers of commerce in Western North Carolina — allows it to bring together people of different stripes who all want Haywood County to be the best community it can be. In a time when many civic organizations are struggling, I’m glad that this chamber of commerce continues to thrive and succeed in its mission.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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