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Hipps steps down as Haywood Chamber president

CeCe Hipps CeCe Hipps Haywood County Chamber of Commerce photo

At the Dec. 20 Haywood Chamber of Commerce board meeting, CeCe Hipps announced that she would be stepping down next summer after leading the Chamber for nearly 20 years.

“We have been fortunate to have had CeCe’s leadership. She has made so many contributions to the success of Haywood County and will be missed,” said Chamber Board Chair Laura Tragesser.

Over the past 20 years, the Chamber of Commerce has assisted Haywood County's growth by making connections to support local businesses and entrepreneurs.

“I’m proud of what we have accomplished in making this an attractive place for business growth and have been honored to serve as a voice for the community. Connecting individuals and organizations with opportunities for professional development has been one of my personal passions. I am also thankful for the opportunity to serve alongside Haywood County leaders, Chamber members and especially the Chamber staff.” said Hipps.

“Hipps has a strong record of success and has been responsible for building a robust and active chamber with a small budget and small team during the most challenging economic times and disasters. She has been creative and innovative in providing programming and opportunities to engage and empower individuals, especially young professionals and entrepreneurs, to become leaders and serve their communities. Hipps understands the importance of engaging her board and creating an environment of pride and ownership of the chamber,” said long-serving Chamber Board Member Bruce Johnson.

During Hipps' tenure, the Chamber of Commerce has helped Haywood County navigate natural and economic disasters, including the Great Recession in 2008, the COVID-19 pandemic, the devasting floods in 2004 and 2021 and the closure of the Pactiv Evergreen Mill in Canton in 2023.

“Our response to these events shows the true heart of the community and how we help our neighbors during these times,” she added. 

“Throughout our biggest challenges, CeCe has been a consistent, positive voice and stable leader,” said Ken Howle, Executive Director of Lake Junaluska.

Hipps advocated for her community during recessions and the pandemic to ensure all businesses received daily information regarding the status of the virus, grants and PPP funding. In addition, she pulled together a team of resource providers, business experts and leaders to provide information on business survival and methods to make necessary changes due to staffing and supply shortages while managing support to provide information learning sessions in a safe environment when Zoom burnout was evident. She was also instrumental in recovering from a significant flood that destroyed a part of the community. 

Her connections with business owners, manufacturers and medical facilities assisted in providing essential supplies and volunteers to assist in clean-up during a pandemic. 

“She understands the importance of regionalism, advocating for proper growth and change, and works with regional allies on relevant common issues,” said Board Chair Laura Tragesser. 

During Hipps' tenure, the Haywood Chamber celebrated 50 years in October 2021. In 2018, the Haywood Chamber began working with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to generate new energy and enthusiasm around economic development, which has expanded during the last several years to include other areas of need in housing, broadband and recreational facilities. The Apple Festival, held each October, has grown and brings an estimated $300,000 to the local economy for the one-day event.

In addition to growing the Apple Festival from 70 vendors to over 100 and being named one of the top 10 Fall Harvest festivals in 2020, she has implemented many events and programs, with the majority still being active programs of the chamber. Issues and Eggs, Women in Business, Women’s Empower Hour, Leadership Haywood, Chamber Connects, the Elected Officials Reception and the meet-n-greets with candidates seeking office. 

In addition, Hipps has used her experience with public policy to adopt a Legislative Priorities agenda while working with county leaders to seek their input.  She also implemented an annual Legislative Trip to Raleigh and has been part of planning a legislative trip to Washington, D.C. 

In October, Hipps and the Haywood Chamber of Commerce were recognized with the prestigious designation of a Carolina Accredited Chamber by the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. The Haywood Chamber is one of only 35 chambers in North and South Carolina recognized for their standards of excellence in the profession. This designation recognizes the Haywood Chamber of Commerce as one of the elite chambers in North and South Carolina to be certified.

In addition to the CACCE Certification, Hipps also received the CCE and IOM designations, the NC Government Basic Economic Development Certification and is a graduate of Leadership North Carolina. She was one of five team members who received the first Advantage West Certified Entrepreneurial Certification for Haywood County. She worked with key community leaders and recognized Haywood County as the First Certified entrepreneurial Community, assuring programs and support were available for businesses.

Hipps currently serves on several community committees and has been a part of visioning and planning processes throughout her tenure in Haywood County. She plans to continue residence in Haywood County, spend more time with her family and explore new career opportunities. 

The Haywood County Board of Directors has established a search committee of local business, government and education leaders.  The process of determining a successor for Hipps will begin immediately, and a job description will be posted on the Chamber’s website in late January.

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