“I just believe if you live in a place, you ought to try to help it be a better place.”
That quote from longtime businessman and Orangeburg resident C.W. “Bill” Welch comes with a sincerity embedded within years of serving various boards and businesses in his community.
It is also a mantra he has chosen as the new interim leader of the Orangeburg Chamber of Commerce, an agency to which he is no stranger.
‘An opportunity to assist’
“They asked me to work until the end of the year, and I agreed to do that on a volunteer basis. I’ve been in Orangeburg County 41 years, and I have been on a lot of different committees in Orangeburg County,” said Welch, who at one time served as chairman of the board of directors for the chamber and the Orangeburg County Development Commission at the same time.
“So I guess that I had a background. I knew some of the people on the board. ... I have tried to assist all the organizations in town if they needed something. I just believe if you live in a place, you ought to try to help it be a better place,” Welch said.
He replaces former chamber president Reyne Moore, who resigned to take another job at Boeing in Ohio alongside her husband, Michael. May 27 was the last official day for Moore, who became the president of the organization on Oct. 15, 2018.
Chamber board Chairman Dave Tussey said, “They offered her a position as well when her husband transferred. So it was a good win. ... She expressed regrets of not being able to stay here, but in this situation family issues took precedence.”
Welch said his service is “an opportunity to assist when the chamber had a change all of a sudden.”
He said his volunteer status is not an indication of any financial difficulties at the chamber, which he said is still financially afloat.
“So far as I know, the answer to that is yes; however, Joshua Nexsen, who is the head financial guy at DPU (and a board member), is currently working to put all of those financial statements in a little bit better condition where they’re easier to read and so on.
“And we certainly are looking at it and trying to determine if there is a problem. At this point, I would not say that there is. But they couldn’t have paid me to do this job anyway. If they had tried to pay me, I wouldn’t have taken it. I will do it as a volunteer,” he said.
Tussey said, “We weren’t sure at that time what we wanted that position to be going forward. We knew what it had been in the past, but the chamber is kind of reinventing itself. We wanted to make sure that the president exemplified what we wanted that position to be in Orangeburg in the future.
“So we said what we’ll do as a board is appoint an interim president, someone with skills and experience that can step in immediately. There’s no spin-up time on the person and they can … help us for about six months.”
The chairman added, “We’re just taking six months to really look at that position and determine what it needs to be to best represent the chamber and the needs of the businesses in Orangeburg,” noting that the board’s decision on who will become president will likely take place between late fall and December.
Tussey also said he would no longer be serving as chairman after 14 months of service. He said his replacement will be chamber board member Daryl Cate, owner of Orangeburg’s Garden Gate Florist, who had also served as vice president of the chamber membership committee.
He said Cate will officially be announced as chairman during the chamber’s upcoming Business Expo on Aug. 8 at The Cinema in Orangeburg.
“We wanted someone who had the enthusiasm and motivation to move the chamber forward as board chairman,” Tussey said, noting Cate also had the necessary leadership and business skills.
“He also showed his leadership and abilities when he was vice president of the membership committee. He grew leadership and has a desire and thirst for increasing that membership, and that’s essential for us at this point,” Tussey said.
‘A plan of progress’
Tussey said the chamber has had challenges but is “on the path where we need to be” through transparency and the "highest code of business ethics."
“Kudos to Josh Nexsen. The financials are now easily understood and all board members are able to understand what we’re looking at, the financial picture. We as the board of directors and as the chamber of commerce want to be transparent with the community so the community knows what we’re doing and how we’re operating,” he said.
Tussey added, “There’s always a slow period traditionally with the chamber when funds are coming in, and usually it’s in the summer.”
Welch said his priorities for the organization are simple and straightforward.
“Well, my priorities are just to look at the system as it exists today and see that all the fundamentals are in place, that there is a plan of progress put together so that we know where we’re headed. I think the other thing is that we need to look at our entire membership and get all the data up to date,” he said.
Welch said the chamber is doing a good job of getting its message out in print and social media, including information regarding upcoming events such as Business Expo.
“I think the general communication is good. ... And they’re using, to a certain extent, social media and all of those kind of things. But I think people still like a personal contact. So, I mean, that’s what I see. And that’s something that we’re taking a look at,” he said.
Tussey said Welch brings more than just his past experience with the chamber board to his current position as interim president.
“His business background and his ability and desire to want to do it was big as well. He volunteered, and he’s got a varied background in manufacturing, as a private business owner, and he’s been in this community for a substantial period of time. So he understands Orangeburg and the needs of Orangeburg,” the chairman said.
‘On a solid foundation’
Welch, a native Tennessean, said he foresees good things in the chamber’s future. He said the chamber’s hosting of a statewide hemp summit on May 17 in partnership with the S.C. Hemp Farmers Association and the Orangeburg Area Small Business Development Center is an example of the way the chamber is making an impact.
“From what I’ve understood, people from all over the U.S. came to see that and were very complimentary of what they were able to learn through that process. And that, to me, is again an example of what the chamber can be involved in. The other one is the Business Expo, which is coming up in August. It’s been very successful, and it’s been run very well. And we anticipate the same thing (this year),” Welch said.
He said he plans to use the “quiet time” at the chamber in June and July to acclimate himself to his new role.
“People are on vacations and all of those kind of things and things pick up in August, different programs come along and so on. And that’s good for me because it’s the time that I can go through the relearning process. We’ve had a couple of board meetings that I’ve been able to attend. The staff is able to provide information to board members,” Welch said.
He said the chamber’s staff is strong and competent employees who are crucial to its ongoing success. The staff includes Whitney Thomas, Amy Holt and Cary Hopkins.
“Quality of the employees and their ability to learn and do things and work in a disciplined fashion, that’s one of the things that you’re always looking at. To me, it’s talent and discipline and that’s capabilities that Orangeburg has.
“There are three outstanding young ladies here. They are really good. ... What I have found is when I asked them a question, they know the answer. They know what needs to be done. And they’re able to get it done very well, which is a huge advantage coming into this situation,” Welch said.
He said updating the brochure and other information for visitors and others is an ongoing process.
“It’s important to have those things up to date and people who are knowledgeable and so on and can handle that. The other thing is it gets new members in when people come in and when they’re able to come and talk. Then that person has access to a lot of information that they might not have been able to get very easily beforehand, more than just what is in the books and so on. They can talk to the folks," Welch said.
Welch, a longtime member of the Lower Savannah Council of Governments Workforce Development Board, is also owner of chief executive officer of Applied Leadership LLC, whose services include consulting and human resource development training.
He has also served as president of Monteferro America, an Orangeburg producer of elevator guide rails, from where Welch retired at the end of 2015. He had also served as co-chairperson of the Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College Foundation Board and as the safety, quality, environment and regulatory affairs manager at the former Albemarle Corp., which is now SI Group.
“The other thing that was interesting, I was head of the Edisto United Way and started and was chairman of the Junior Achievement program. ... I’ve always felt it’s important to give to the community. So that’s my fundamental thought process,” Welch said.
Tussey said, “The Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce is on a solid foundation and is poised to grow and help the businesses of Orangeburg, which it’s chartered to do.”