Tonya Palumbo has logged hundreds, possibly even thousands, of hours serving the community of Holly Springs through the Chamber of Commerce.
She likens her story to that of the 1993 cinema classic Rudy, beginning on the Ambassador committee in 2015 and working her way up the ladder as a dedicated volunteer, until finally accepting the role of executive director in late 2022.
Palumbo’s efforts have earned her several awards, including the Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year, Ambassador of the Year (two times!), Volunteer of the Year, and Triangle Business Journal’s Women in Business Award, all while running her full-time photography business, T&T Photography. Even now, as executive director, Palumbo continues to offer limited photography sessions.
“I’m a huge small business supporter. I love to shop small,” Palumbo says. “The role of the chamber is to be the voice of the business community. … A strong chamber is a strong community.”
Holly Springs Cultural Center
Resource Room Learning Center
GRAPES, GRAINS & GIVING
The Club at 12 Oaks
Sugg Farm Park
WINTERFEST & TREE TRAIL
Dec. 8 & 9
Palumbo served “on every committee” in 2019, took a seat on the board of directors in 2020, and eventually became chair of the board in 2021, during a turbulent time when the Chamber experienced high rates of turnover among its staff and board. (Palumbo’s yearlong — and counting — stint as executive director makes her the longest serving director since 2017.)
“What businesses needed in 2017 isn’t what they needed in 2019, and sure as heck wasn’t what they needed in 2020, 2021, 2022. Those needs are constantly changing. If you are not malleable to the constant evolution of what businesses need, this is probably not a good fit,” she says.
“I’ve been on every committee, every event, every position on the board. I’m telling you that this is a hard job with a revolving door of priorities.”
Working as a photographer conditioned Palumbo to think quickly on her feet — a skill she puts to the test nearly every day as executive director.
“I never know who is going to walk in my door and who demands me right now,” she says. “You have to be able to shift from something not so pleasant, to putting on the first responders event, to helping a member that is struggling.”
“It’s important that the business community has a voice. We can do that when we work together. A boutique on Main Street can’t always advocate for themself, but if they have the advocacy of a hundred businesses behind them, that changes a lot,” she says.
During Palumbo’s first year as executive director, 54 new members joined the Chamber. The inaugural First Responders Luncheon provided a meal for every first responder working in Holly Springs. The town-wide festival, SpringsFest, welcomed 10,000 attendees to downtown, up from 2,500 in 2019 — “It was a completely different beast four years ago. Then we didn’t even have a street light.”
Palumbo helped pivot the Women’s Development Conference away from professional development to focus on women’s health and wellness, with overwhelmingly positive reviews.
“It was unbelievably inspiring to be a part of that change that happened right in front of my eye,” she says. “Empowering women to know that there are other options out there when it comes to their health.”
And her rookie year isn’t finished yet. The Grapes, Grains and Giving fundraiser, which benefits the Holly Springs Food Cupboard, increased its financial goal by $5,000 over the previous year’s total.
“I work well under pressure,” Palumbo says with a half smile.
At the heart of the Chamber’s mission is fostering outstanding quality of life, thus enticing large corporations and new residents to the area, which in turn helps small businesses thrive.
Palumbo offers the example of the 2023 Parks Bond Referendum that will appear on the Holly Springs voter ballot Nov. 7, earmarking a $100 million investment to enhance parks facilities — largely to construct a new park on Cass Holt Road.
“We are supporting the Parks Bond,” she says. “We can bring people into the community for tournaments and to watch children play, and that is good for business. Those people are going to shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, and be on Main Street, and that’s important.”
Through the varied tasks, priorities, and challenges in front of her, perhaps Palumbo’s most important role is as a connector, building a bridge between the town and its businesses, directing Chamber members to available resources, mentoring entrepreneurs, and creating opportunities for the community to engage with business owners.
“Being able to connect businesses and see what can happen through positive collaboration is what keeps me going. … In a community that’s built on connections, that’s where success follows.”