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SALISBURY — Dressed in Carolina blue, Elaine Spalding greeted business leaders and elected officials as the new president of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce during a public reception Wednesday.
Spalding said she has launched a month-long listening tour and will visit chamber members across the county to learn how to better serve them. The former chamber president in Paducah, Ky., Spalding said she wants to gather information, including the chamber’s local history, current issues and suggestions from members.
Spalding says she offers a fresh perspective.
“Sometimes when you are new to a community, people will share with you some things they may not have shared with others,” she said.
Spalding, who started work last week, was the unanimous choice of the chamber board after a nationwide search for a new president to replace Bob Wright, who retired.
Tim Norris, a chamber board member, said expectations for Spalding are high. Among other directives, the board wants Spalding to form relationships with chamber members and other community groups, Norris said.
“She’s got the skills to do that,” he said.
Dale Wagstaff, a business coach and owner of Refining Minds, joined the chamber last year.
“I think we need a leader,” Wagstaff said. “That may sound obvious, but we need someone to lead.”
His top priority for Spalding would be to encourage the growth of small businesses in Rowan County, Wagstaff said.
“I want a chamber that serves its members, not a chamber that expects members to serve them,” he said.
Stan Reece, a commercial banking executive at Park Sterling Bank in Salisbury, said he wants Spalding to “grow the spirit of teamwork” between the chamber and small businesses. Reece said he also looks for Spalding to actively recruit industry and business to Rowan County.
Spalding helped take the Paducah Chamber of Commerce from the brink of bankruptcy in 1999 to Chamber of the Year in 2011. She grew the Paducah chamber from 700 to more than 1,000 members. The Rowan chamber has about 900 members.
Twelve years after taking out a line of credit to meet payroll, the Paducah chamber won the prestigious Chamber of the Year award from the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. In 2012, the chamber received a four-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Spalding received the Chamber Executive of the Year award from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Executives’ Association in 2005.
Paducah and Salisbury are roughly the same size and both boast vibrant arts communities, as well as many old, rehabilitated homes and buildings. Spalding and husband Keyth Kahrs, a watercolor artist, renovated a 150-year-old house in Lower Town, Ky. Kahrs’ gallery is on the first floor, and they lived above it.
Kahrs will remain in Kentucky until the house sells, Spalding said. She has moved to Salisbury and is living with a relative until Kahrs arrives.
The couple plan to buy a historic home in Salisbury and indulge their kayaking habit on area rivers and lakes, Spalding said.
“Her background fits well with this community,” Reece said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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