They’re former classmates, Amber Williamson and Sarah Belle Tate.
They work together at the Business High Point Chamber of Commerce. Their offices are side by side, their desks are within steps of one another, and they meet weekly to brainstorm ways to promote the chamber’s 800 members.
High Point is their adopted hometown. It’s also the hometown of their alma mater.
Tate and Williamson both received their undergraduate and master’s degrees in strategic communication from High Point University.
But their similarities don’t end there.
They’re both in their 20s, they both grew up in nearby Greensboro, and they both see their work at the chamber as a way to support a city that plans to invest $135 million in its downtown.
But for Tate and Williamson, their connection is more personal. Their friendship started in the most innocuous of places – in a classroom. It ended up changing a life and starting a career.
HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein has a name for it. He calls it “relational capital.”
Williamson sees it as something else.
The “Click” of Friendship and Divine Intervention
“That’s where it all began.”
Williamson leans into the desktop computer screen in her office and clicks on the LinkedIn message she received one night in late July. The message came from Tate.
Tate, the chamber’s senior director for events and marketing, had taken at least three classes with Williamson. And last spring at a leadership alumni weekend on campus, they sat beside one another and caught up.
Tate always saw Williamson as her “cool” classmate, who carried herself well and did great work.
So, when Tate heard about the chamber hiring a manager for communications and programs, she found Williamson on LinkedIn and shot her a three-sentence email.
“Hope you’re doing well!” Tate wrote. “This is a long shot but ….”
Back then, Williamson rarely looked at her LinkedIn messages. But she did that night, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
After finishing her thesis and graduating in May 2016, Williamson took a break after years of working hard for two degrees. She worked various freelance jobs involving marketing and public relations.
By January 2017, she was ready. She began looking for a full-time job, and by the next month, she had four interviews. Meanwhile, she prayed.
“God, I don’t know where my next move is,” Williamson said to herself. “But wherever it is, I want it to be where You want me to be.”
The next week, she got Tate’s email. Williamson responded immediately.
“Thank you for thinking of me!” she wrote.
By late August, Williamson was hired. The chamber job felt right.
“It was the same feeling – the click, the ‘This is it’ — that I felt when I came to tour High Point University,” she says. “I had felt that only twice in my life, and it scared me. I never wanted something so badly.”
Williamson now becomes part of the chamber’s nine-person team. Four of them are HPU graduates.
To find out why, ask Patrick Chapin.
He’s the chamber’s president and CEO. He arrived in High Point 18 months ago after a 26-year career in Florida where he led the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, two different YMCAs and worked in management at Walt Disney World.
“The culture within HPU is very special,” he says. “Their students have a level of professionalism, an attention to detail, and they’re always at their best at any given time. And their public speaking is spectacular.”
Tate and Williamson come at a time when High Point wants young people to set down roots and bring their ideas and energy to help transform a city known as the Furniture Capital of the World.
Twice a year, the High Point Market generates more than $5.4 billion annually when more than 75,000 people come from around the world to see and order the latest trends in furniture.
Yet, furniture no longer drives High Point’s economy like it once did.
During a 20-year period that ended in 2012, research shows that 40,000 furniture workers lost their jobs in North Carolina because of plant closings, layoffs and overseas competition.
So, the city of High Point is working to reinvent itself.
That’s where Tate and Williamson come in.
Finding High Point’s Fertile Ground
Tate is 26; Williamson, 25. They’re the local voices of a generation that every American city like High Point is trying to attract — and keep.
So, Tate and Williamson work.
Tate coined the organization’s new tagline — High Point Rising! – and led the creative process to craft the Chamber’s new logo, which features a rising sun to illustrate the city’s bright future.
Meanwhile, Tate and Williamson both look for effective ways to engage their peers, the Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, one of the largest in history.
One big way is High Point’s Downtown Catalyst Project.
On an 11.5-acre tract a mile west of campus, the project is slated to build a baseball stadium, an events center, a children’s museum, a hotel, 200 condominiums, a park and an educational cinema for families.
Leading the effort is Dr. Qubein, a 1970 graduate of then-High Point College.
He stayed. So have Tate and Williamson. They see much potential. And they see how they can help.
“I’ve read so much about how Millennials care about purpose, and this (the project) is a worthwhile cause,” Tate says. “This as an area where I can matter.”
Like Tate, Williamson has come to know the city and its residents. And like Tate, Williamson knows what she believes can happen.
“We have fertile ground here,” she says. “Whatever is sown will grow.”
On a shelf behind Williamson’s desk, slightly above her head, is a decorative block that holds one word: Faith. It’s a gift from Tate.
That word matters for both of them. They both grew up in church, and they know faith guides their moral compass. So, Williamson keeps Tate’s gift where she can see it every day.
“Nothing happens by chance,” Williamson says of her new job. “This is God.”