Businesses commended for contributions to economy.
Macon County's second annual BizWeek came to a close last Thursday with a banquet honoring businesses and individuals for their contributions to the recovering economy. Seminars, networking events, and guest speakers celebrating entrepreneurship in the county were all part of Bizweek.
The week long happenings culminated at the Holly Springs Baptist Church fellowship hall with a banquet that was served to a full house by students from the Job Corps (food provided from Angel Medical Center) and hosted by the Economic Development Commission (EDC).
EDC director Tommy Jenkins and chairman Ed Shatley welcomed the crowd before Commissioner Ron Haven opened the banquet with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the invocation for the gathering given by Rev. Vic Green.
Abigail Roper entertained with two musical numbers before the presentation of the honorees commenced.
Mayor Joe Collins presented the first plaque of the evening, which went to Angel Medical Center.
“We all know that a town cannot be strong without a good hospital,” said Collins. “Over the years it has been hard to keep it going at that level, but we feel good about it. They have about 450 full-time employees and about 150 auxiliary members and volunteers. They touch every aspect of the community. We're very fortunate to have such strong leadership.”
Jim Bross, CEO of AMC accepted the award on behalf of the hospital.
“Our caregivers are very appreciative and this is a special honor on behalf of them,” Bross said. “Also the board of the hospital has done a super job helping us develop strategy and a vision. I want to thank them and thank you all for this honor on behalf of our entire team.”
Corey McCall and Rob Gasparro, owners of Outdoor 76 took the podium following Bross' exit to present the next award.
“For generations, [this entrepreneur's] business was the anchor of our town's main street and his gifts in managing and sales created an environment for his employees that attracted many of them to stay until retirement,” said Gasbarro. “Corey and I were so grateful when we were asked to present this award to J.C. Jacobs.”
Jacobs, whose former store, People's, once located in the building that houses Outdoor 76 — had been a staple in the community for more than 50 years. At 93 years old, he has only recently stepped away from the retail business.
“After 55 and a half years, we thought it was time to bow out,” said Jacobs. “I am grateful to all of you and the community for the service that has afforded me and my family over the year. Thank you very much. I have always appreciated the people of Macon County. When I opened the store, people said, ‘how in the world are you going to make a go of this with all of your competition?’ I said I'm going to do my thing and let them do theirs. And we were very happy with the results. Thank you so much.”
County Commissioner Jimmy Tate, who represents Highlands, moved to the front of the room to present the next plaque to Old Edwards Inn and Spa. According to Tate, owners Art and Angela Williams have invested more than $100 million into the local economy. The inn, spa, and new golf course employs 275 to 300 local people annually. They also sponsor local scholarships and support non-profits.
President and CEO of Old Edwards Hospitality Group, Richard Delaney and his wife Melissa, were on hand to accept the award.
“I want to thank all of you and the community for the incredible support you have given us,” said Delaney. “Without all of you, none of this would be possible. We appreciate the incredible support we've gotten from Macon County and all of you that have helped us get to where we are. Thank you so much.”
The awards portion closed out with Johnny Mira-Knippel from TekTone presenting the last award to Raymond Page, plant manager at the former Whitley Products, now Franklin Tubular. The saga of the Whitley plant has been an ongoing one. Just when it looked as though it was on its final leg, the factory was sold to the Tricorn group and then transformed into Franklin Tubular. With that transformation, the factory has added 25 new jobs, bringing the total to 120 with 10 more positions left to fill.
Upon receiving the award, Page stressed the importance of working as a team inside the factory and outside of it with others in the community. Earlier this year leaders at Whitley along with county officials and town officials sought out a purchaser of the plant, offering incentives from the governing bodies as well as the governor's office.
“I stand here very humbled tonight and I want to thank you for what you've done,” said Page. “I want to thank the team from Franklin Tubular that is here tonight. It was the day before Christmas when I got an email that said Whitley Products was going to be closing and there was no point in reporting back to work, but one of the things we knew was that there was still hope. Thank you very much, I look forward to many years of service here.”
One of the grants that was used to help reach a deal between Whitley Products and Tricorn came from the state of North Carolina, making this point a perfect time for Tony Almeida to take the mic in order to deliver a closing speech. Almeida serves as senior advisor to Governor Pat McCrory on jobs and the economy.
Since McCrory’s governorship is in its infancy, Almeida began by giving the audience an overview of the state's current officials and the goals the governor hopes to reach while in office, the first being the development of changes to the current tax code.
“We're trying to develop a tax code that is more fair, more simple, pro-growth and more competitive,” said Almeida. “We need to close some loopholes that exist from decades ago. We need to eliminate some exemptions and we probably need to look at broadening the sales tax base. Tax reform is a key priority.”
Almeida also focused on environmental permitting for businesses. This comes on the heels of Senate Bill 612 recently introduced in the N.C. Senate. SB 612 is a bill that would allow fast track permitting for certain environmental permits among other things such as prohibiting local ordinances from being stricter than state ordinances.
“The environment is very important. We've got a new secretary in the department of environment and natural resources and he has told his group, ‘we're going to uphold good environmental science across the state of North Carolina, but we're going to help businesses navigate the environmental permitting process,” Almeida said. “I think that the last thing you need are some environmental folks coming in and raiding your facility and causing you problems and giving you fines and hurting your competitiveness overall. We need to be helping companies understand the process and helping them work through it.”
He went on to highlight other ways to help businesses and employment in the state discussing a strategy to offer more convenience to those using state agencies to find employment and training. He also discussed the needs of veterans who are returning to civilian life and are unable to secure jobs.
“We're in the position to help these veterans,” he said. “We've been doing it in some of the bigger cities but we need to be doing it throughout the state. That's one of our priorities.”
The speaker ended with his focus on the economic future of North Carolina and the development of a strong plan to help grow the economy of the counties within the state.
“It's not about recruitment, it's about serving existing business and industries and helping them expand,” said Almeida in closing. “It's about tourism. I have to believe that's important here. Tourism, travel, sports management, the film industry, and small businesses are very important. We have to keep these strong to bring the new dollar back in to our state. At the end of the day, economic development is local. What we need to do at the state level is to make sure that we understand your needs and that we work together to create programs and policies that will support your needs so that we can create 21st century sustainable jobs. That's what we're all about.”
Jenkins, thanking those in attendance, brought the banquet, along with a successful week, to a close.