To say that Jim Studdard has been under trial by fire would be an understatement. He started his new job as the Lincolnton Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce on April 1 which was when local businesses – big and small – were just beginning to deal with the ramifications of a shutdown due to the pandemic. Things haven’t improved all that much since then.
“I came in at the peak of the confusion from the pandemic,” he said. “As they all say, the best laid plans often go awry. Walking into a situation where there’s a crisis that there are no rules written for, as we’ve all learned, is a challenge. We’ve got seasoned veterans on the staff and they’ve really made me feel welcome. We got through the stay at home ordeal and now are able to slowly come together.”
Studdard said he and his staff are still feeling their way through the pandemic and making due as they go.
“The main thing is to be here for the members,” he said. “We’ve got to support them through these tough times.”
While he grew up in Charlotte and lived in Raleigh for 15 years, Studdard and his family relocated to Lincolnton eight years ago. Prior to coming to the chamber, he worked at Tenowo. While at Tenowo, he served on the board on the chamber board.
“As I was serving on the board and we were trying to find the next chamber president, it appealed to me because I’ve learned to love Lincolnton these past eight years,” he said. “I’m not a local, I can’t call it my hometown, but I’m sure happy to be a resident here. Our children are grown so we’re able to get out and about, meet people and enjoy life here.”
Once COVID is a thing of the past, Studdard said that he wants to focus on growing the chamber in a 21st Century way and adapting to the way that things need to be done.
“Not just because of the pandemic, but with today’s technology,” he said. “We also want to make sure that we engage both our long-term members and the younger ones we have now coming on board. I think that the sharing of information as we go through these times and into the future from the veterans to the younger ones will sustain this chamber.”
Historically, the chamber is a place where members, be they individuals, businesses or nonprofits can come together for an exchange of good, services, information, leads and experience.
“It’s where we can help others that may not have the resources,” he said. “Most people know chambers are strongly represented by the small business owner, but that doesn’t exclude the large manufacturers and other industries in this area. It’s part of our job to make sure that the knowledge of all is shared amongst all. We want business here for a long time. We don’t want to see them shutting doors.”
Throughout the pandemic, Studdard has been working on the sidelines helping the community through the United Way.
“As a member of the community first and the chamber second, I think it’s important that we take care of our people in the community as much as we can and provide them help and assistance when we can,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have a strong United Way in Lincoln County with Kathy (Vinzant). Through that relationship I’m able to give back to the community both as an individual and as a chamber president to make sure we’re doing our part to help everyone.”
Prior to coming to the chamber, Studdard was active with the apprenticeship programs at Lincoln County Schools, specifically at Tenowo.
“That allowed me to get into the schools and share with students the advantages of an apprenticeship program,” he said. “We tried to go to as many of the public high schools as we could as well as middle schools to let them know that there was something out there besides a four-year program, or in a lot of cases, no further education at all. I hope to continue in some form being involved with the youth in this area. I’m not sure where, but again, times are a bit challenging. We don’t know where we’re going. It’s been one of my passions to help youth transition from high school age to the young adult age.”
Until someone spends time in Lincoln County, Studdard doesn’t think that they realize how much value it has as a community.
“I’m looking forward to growing it through the chamber,” he said. “I think a lot of good things are going to come out of this health crisis. We’re all going to learn to do things differently and move on.”