Union County Chamber of Commerce President Sharon Rosché knows she is starting her job at a challenging time.
Rosché began work in February replacing Jim Carpenter, the chamber's leader for 17 years before his retirement last summer. Rosché had worked as head of the chamber in Morrisville near Raleigh since fall 2007. Prior to that, she oversaw and controlled all financial operations of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce in Ohio.
The 45-year-old Akron, Ohio, native spoke to the Observer last week about her take on local business and the economy. Responses have been editor for clarity and brevity.
Q: Why did you want to come here?
Union County is in the path of progress. It has a very diverse economic base, including corporate offices and manufacturing. There's more of a diversity than where I was.
Q: What is your first impression of the local business scene?
The recession has obviously hit the local scene pretty severely. But things are starting to look up. From a small business perspective, sales are increasing slowly but surely. (A recovery) is at different stages. I hear hotels are getting visitors again. I see a lot of start-ups. We've had 10 ribbon cuttings in the last five weeks, including a health benefits company, insurance company and a company that repairs and rebuilds high-end cars.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the local economy?
There are a number of challenges. Our economic study (released last Wednesday) shows that it's pretty clear Union County has a nice quality of life, good schools. But the county and communities lack money, and 85 percent of the tax base is residential, with 15 percent commercial. Without money, we can't build roads, water and sewer connections. Another challenge is communities don't really work together, they are all doing their own things.
Q: What is the chamber's biggest challenge?
Over the last three years, we've lost quite a few members because of the economy. We have 526 regular members now. We need to be sure we have the right program in place for members. It's all about added value right now, whether, for instance, that means offering free training or helping them learn how to network.
Q: Do you think we'll see a return to double-digit unemployment that Union County had in 2009 and part of last year?
The builders are starting to build again. You had double-digit numbers (in part) because of builders and industries cutting back. We lost some manufacturing firms. Unemployment has come down a little, but we won't see a lot (of changes) soon.
Q: Tell me something about yourself that would surprise people who know you?
I'm an accountant by trade, so who'd think that I would have one of the most outgoing jobs in the world. I also was a competitive swimmer until I was 18. I'm very competitive in nature.
Q: You are the chamber's first female president. What do you think of that?
It does mean a lot. I was kind of shocked that people were so excited a woman was taking over this role. (The Morrisville-Raleigh area) was a little more progressive in that area. I went to a black-tie event when I first got here, and a man thanked me because it gave him the ability to tell his daughter she could be anything she wanted to be in a leadership position.