Columbus Chamber honors Medford, Heller and Young

By Justin Smith, The News Reporter

 The Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism honored local leaders at its Annual Meeting and Business Expo Monday night at Northwood Church in Whiteville. Jonathan Medford, owner of Inspire Creative Studios, was named the inaugural winner of the Young Professional of the Year Award.

 In addition to serving on the Columbus Chamber board of directors, Medford has held leadership positions in numerous community organizations, including the Columbus Jobs Foundation and Whiteville Rotary Club. He also coaches tennis and is an alumnus of Leadership Columbus, explained Joan McPherson, outgoing chair of the Chamber’s board of directors. She said Medford “was instrumental in the development of the Columbus Young Professionals group and served as the first chairman.”

 Medford, who was unable to attend the ceremony, lives in Whiteville with his wife, Sally, and their children, Carrie and Riley.

2019 Columbus Chamber Board of Directors

2019 Columbus Chamber Board of Directors

Left to right, Jonathan Medford, Rev. David Heller, Janice Young

Rev. David Heller, Columbus Baptist Association’s director of missions, was presented the Sol B. Mann Community Spirit Award. Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann said the Chamber created the award in 2002 to honor his late father. The award’s purpose is “to recognize an individual that goes out of their way to make our community a better place to live,” Mann said.

 Heller entered the ministry in 1982 and served for 18 years as the pastor of Pleasant Plains Baptist Church. He has served as the senior chaplain of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office since 1998. He hosts a television show on Southeastern Community College’s EDU-Cable that highlights area non-profit organizations and volunteering opportunities. Heller was instrumental in establishing the backpack buddy program that provides non-perishable food to ensure that area school children in need do not go hungry over the weekends.

 Heller and his wife Cindy have three adult daughters and one granddaughter. “My wife and I have made Columbus County our home for the last 23 years,” he said. “We love the people of this county, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to serve.”

 Honorary Lifetime Membership Janice Young, the past executive director of the Chamber, was honored with a Lifetime Honorary Membership. She has served as president of the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society, deacon at First Baptist Church of Whiteville and a board member of Columbus County Tourism Bureau, American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. “The award pays tribute to individuals who use their time, their talent and their energy to change the lives of others and their community,” said John Elliott of Duke Energy, who presented the award.

Elliot explained that Young “has a long resume of service in Columbus County that epitomizes community leadership at so many levels.” She “is a stellar example of what can be accomplished with passion, conviction and dogged determination,” he said. Young has been married to her husband Bob, for nearly 50 years. They have two daughters, Julia and Peyton, and five grandchildren.

“It has been my honor for over 40 years to be a part of Columbus County,” Young said. “We moved here really hardly knowing anyone and were immediately embraced, and that is exactly what the people do here. They embrace you; they love you. We become family, and families can do anything together.”

LEAD Award Elliott presented Duke Energy’s the company’s Leadership in Economic Advancement and Development (LEAD) Award to outgoing Columbus Chamber Chairman Joan McPherson, owner of J. Mac’s Creative Plans by Design.

“The LEAD Award was created by Duke Energy to recognize deserving business leaders who have spent extraordinary time, effort and personal talent preparing the community for job growth, investment and a competitive economic development climate,” Elliott said. He explained the award is presented once a year in North Carolina, and it was last presented to someone in the eastern part of the state in 2015.

McPherson “is a community leader who employs inclusion as their mindset, integrity as their strength and collaboration as their practice,” Elliott said. “I hope that beyond anything else my love for Whiteville and Columbus County shines through,” McPherson said. “In light of negativity, I’m a firm believer that if we can all just say one thing positive every morning when we wake up and look at our business community and our community as a whole in a positive light, we can make great changes.”

 After accepting the LEAD Award, McPherson delivered a farewell speech, which is reprinted on page 10A.

Following her speech, McPherson introduced her successor as chair of the board, Jamille Gore of Tabor City, a financial advisor with Edward Jones Investments.

Winslow named Brunswick Electric CEO

By: The News Reporter

The board of directors of Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation (BEMC) have announced the appointment of Joshua L. Winslow as the new CEO and general manager of the electric cooperative. He succeeds retired executive Don Hughes who had been with BEMC since 1969 and had served as CEO and general manager since 2014. Winslow officially assumed his position Feb. 1.

Joshua Winslow, left, has been named to succeed retiring Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation CEO Don Hughes, right.

Joshua Winslow, left, has been named to succeed retiring Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation CEO Don Hughes, right.


“Josh is an excellent fit for BEMC because he has a proven track record of leadership and personnel development,” said Hughes. “Not only is he storm-tested, but he consistently demonstrates concern for the community’s needs while providing strength of leadership and support for the daily operation of the co-op.”

Winslow said he was honored to serve as CEO.

“We have an incredible team at BEMC, and a commitment to service is in the DNA of this cooperative,” he said. “We will continue to honor our founding principles as we face some of the most significant changes to our industry in decades.  Remaining focused on returning value to our membership in the form of safe, reliable, and affordable power will ensure success for the cooperative and support for the communities we serve.”

Hired in 2004, Winslow has served BEMC as a staff electrical engineer, manager of operations, and most recently as chief operating officer. Winslow holds a B.S. in electrical engineering and an MBA from NC State University and is a licensed professional engineer.

Winslow and his wife LeeAnna have been married for 16 years, live in Supply, and have three children: Raleigh, Reagan and Roslyn.  He is a member of the Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce board of directors.


County airport’s economic impact grows by over 30 percent in most recent figures

By Allen Turner, The News Reporter

The Columbus County Municipal Airport had $164.64 million in annual local economic impact in 2017, the most recent year for which data analysis is available, according to a new report by N.C. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division.

That represents increases of more than 30 percent across all categories — total economic output, number of jobs generated, total personal income generated and state and local taxes generated — over 2016.

Gary Strausser of Pennsylvania checks his Embraer jet at the Columbus County Municipal Airport

Gary Strausser of Pennsylvania checks his Embraer jet at the Columbus County Municipal Airport


There are 10 commercial airports and 62 general aviation airports like Columbus County’s in the state.

Statewide, aviation-related economic input increased to $52 billion, up from $31 billion in 2016.

The increase in economic output was primarily due to two factors, economic growth and new ways of reporting the numbers. 

The general aviation analysis measured the impact of jobs supported by the airports directly, jobs supported by businesses that rely on the airports and the impact of visitors.

Total economic output at the local airport increased by nearly 35 percent, rising to $164.64 million from $121.98 million. There were 495 aviation-related jobs (both direct and indirect) in the county, compared to 380 the year before, an increase of 30 percent, and aviation-related personal income in the county increased from $30.2 million from $22.58 million in 2016, or a 34 percent jump. State and local taxes generated by the Columbus County Municipal Airport in 2017 were $20.411 million, a 32 percent increase over 2016’s $15.521 million.

North Carolina’s system of 72 public airports transports more than 62 million business and leisure travelers a year and moves more than 850,000 tons of high-value, time-sensitive cargo such as medical supplies and advanced manufacturing components.

Ninety-four percent of the state’s population lives within a half-hour drive of a public airport, according to the report. The general aviation airports like Columbus County’s connect business and communities to global markets, house and refuel private aircraft, support agricultural and military aviation and provide aviation services such as aerial photography and pilot training.

The Columbus County Municipal Airport is one of the most popular refueling stops on the East Coast, in part due to its location about halfway between big cities in the Northeast and Florida. Much of its traffic is repeat business and some longtime customers fly out of their way in order to refuel here

Ray Muraszko, a corporate airplane pilot who lives in New Jersey, makes frequent visits each year when he and his wife travel to their vacation home in Georgia, and they attribute their loyalty to the Columbus County airport to Phil and Mary Edwards, the husband-and-wife airport managers. “We wouldn’t consider stopping someplace else,” says Muraszko.

Although planes arriving for fuel during business hours are serviced by either Edwards or by Joe Thompson, the airport’s only full time employee, pilots also can land here after hours and purchase the fuel they need by inserting a credit card into the pump, much like a motorist at a convenience store. At night, pilots can activate the runway lighting system via radio.

Edwards, who flew his own airplanes even before he became involved with the airport, enjoys what he does and has no plans for retiring. “I plan to stay here as long as I can keep making a positive impact, and for as long as they’ll let me stay. I enjoy it.”

Twenty-seven aircraft are based at the local airport and it sees about 17,000 operations, or takeoffs and landings, annually. 

In addition to general aviation, corporate customers include HARPO, Inc. (Oprah Winfrey’s company), Liberty Medical, the Atlantic Corporation, R.J. Corman Railroad, BB&T Bank, Lowe’s Corp., First Community Bank, Top Tobacco, and DNS Pump. Medical industry users include Duke University Medical Center, UNC-Chapel Hill and Carolinas Health Care. Military and agricultural users also make frequent use of the airport. Planes working out of the airport have been used for such diversified local activities as fertilizing trees at tree farms and a Department of Natural Resources project to count birds in the area.

“We’ve got a good airport,” Edwards said. “A lot of people don’t realize it, but the airport is one of the most important parts of the infrastructure here because it’s really the gateway to the county.”

N.C. House Speaker: schools here could get $12 million from proposed state bond

By Justin Smith, The News Reporter

The speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, joined by local legislator Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus), told education leaders gathered at South Columbus High School Friday that schools in the county would receive as much as $12 million from a proposed statewide construction bond, which could also be used for repair and renovation projects.

Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said he will file a bill for a $1.9 billion bond that voters would consider in a 2020 ballot referendum. The proposal would provide $1.3 billion for K-12 capital construction needs, $300 million to the state’s public universities and another $300 million for facility needs in North Carolina’s community colleges.

Jones said the proposed bond is especially important because Columbus County voters in November rejected a proposed quarter-cent sales tax referendum that would have benefited both local school systems and Southeastern Community College.

“Thank goodness the speaker has taken the bull by the horn and is making sure that Tier-1 schools like those in Columbus County get the help that they need,” Jones said. “This is huge. This is a big deal for us.”

Jonathan Williams, interim superintendent of Columbus County Schools, said the funding is sorely needed in his system, in which some facilities are more than a century old. Needs also exist at newer facilities, including South Columbus High School, where an estimate to replace the roof exceeded $600,000.

“It is a game changer,” Williams said of the proposed bond. “We see it in the rural counties as an equalizer to some of the advantages that you have in more urban areas.”

In addition to Williams, the event was attended by Whiteville City School Board members Coleman Barbour, Kandle Rogers and Anna Richardson, as well as Columbus County Commissioner Jerome McMillian and Sheriff Jody Greene.

Bond proceeds for K-12 school systems should be weighted by counties’ low-wealth status, population, average school enrollment and enrollment growth, according to a press release from Moore’s office. Additionally, grants to K-12 schools would prioritize counties that have limited ability to generate tax revenue, carry high debt-to-tax ratios and have critical school construction needs. Grants for smaller counties with economic challenges wouldn’t require a local match, while larger school systems should provide matching funds.

Speaker Tim Moore speaks at SCHS Friday

Speaker Tim Moore speaks at SCHS Friday


Moore stressed that the bond would not result in higher taxes given the state’s strong financial position and credit rating. He said the bill should pass the House overwhelmingly.

“I can speak for the House, not for the Senate,” Moore said. “They get a little upset when I do that. But I feel confident that it will [pass] there.”

Moore said it would likely be two years before the money would reach the school districts and the community college because he plans for the referendum to appear on the 2020 primary ballot. He said it’s important for the measure to be considered during an even-year election when voter turnout is generally higher so as many people can weigh in as possible. 

New preK-8 schools in Cerro Gordo and Tabor City and a major overhaul of the Whiteville High School campus are already planned and will be funded by county government contributions, state needs-based grants and debt financing by both school systems. 

Bigger role, bigger office

Jones assumes leadership post as lawmakers return to Raleigh

By Justin Smith, The News Reporter

Two of Columbus County’s state legislators returned to Raleigh Wednesday to begin their second terms while a newly elected member accustomed to enforcing laws is now in a position to help write them.

Carson Smith of Hampstead served for 16 years as Pender County sheriff. Rather than seek re-election, Smith decided to run for N.C. House. In November, the Republican handily beat Democrat John Johnson to represent the newly redrawn House District 16, which includes Whiteville, eastern Columbus County and all of Pender County. 

Wednesday morning as the lobby of the Legislative Building buzzed with activity ahead of swearing-in ceremonies, Smith posed in front of the grand carpeted red steps next to his wife Jennifer and his adult children: son Adam, daughter Natalie and stepson Quinton Juliano. 

The representative said his House colleagues are eager to mine his experience as sheriff to inform legislation in a variety of areas, including criminal law, mental health and drug issues.

“They are very interested in my opinion as someone who has just come off the frontline of law enforcement,” Smith said.

Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus) works in his new office Wednesday in the Legislative Building. The office, which is four times larger than his previous one, is a result of Jones’ new leadership post as deputy majority leader.

Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus) works in his new office Wednesday in the Legislative Building. The office, which is four times larger than his previous one, is a result of Jones’ new leadership post as deputy majority leader.

House members haven’t been assigned to committees yet, but Smith anticipates potentially serving on the Justice and Public Safety Appropriations Committee and one of the judiciary committees. 

Although he has spent years in elected office, Smith said serving in the legislature will be different. As sheriff, “you’re the top dog and you’re the top man,” he explained. But in the House, he’ll have to work with the 119 other members to get anything done. 

While Columbus County has one member of the House who is brand new, its returning member, Brenden Jones of Tabor City, is quickly ascending the ranks, entering his second term as deputy majority leader. 

The Republican believes he is one of the first sophomores to hold the position, which places him as the fourth highest-ranking member in the House. Jones says the job will help him get things done for his district, which includes Tabor City, western Columbus County and portions of Robeson County.

“It gives us a real seat at the table,” he said. “We’re hand-in-hand with what the speaker and the majority leader are doing on a daily basis.”

The job entitled Jones to a larger office — four times the size of his previous one. He just moved into the larger space Tuesday and decorations were still a bit sparse on the legislature’s opening day. The wall behind his desk featured photos of each member of the House, the State Seal, a collage of Tabor City scenes and a clock, which he’ll need given a schedule that will intensify in his new role. As deputy majority leader, Jones will be an ex-officio member of every House committee. 

Jones said the new session of the General Assembly should bring more hurricane recovery assistance to his constituents still dealing with the aftermath of Matthew and Florence. He is also working with House Speaker Tim Moore to ensure that a proposed school construction bond will benefit Columbus and Robeson counties.

During his first two years in the House, Jones would often appear in Columbus County side by side with Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican, who also started his second term Wednesday. 

Like Jones, Britt said Wednesday that hurricane recovery is on the top of his to-do list. He is also open to expanding government-funded health care for low-income people — but with caveats. 

“We are looking at some ways to possibly extend Medicaid and increase Medicaid benefits to the folks who are considered the working poor — not an expansion as the Democrat party is seeking, but an expansion to some of those folks that are actually working jobs but simply can’t afford healthcare,” he said.

Britt stressed that he is not in favor of extending Medicaid benefits to “folks who are not working, folks that don’t have jobs.” But he has observed a great need for healthcare in his district, which includes Columbus and Robeson counties. For instance, he said, parents addicted to opioids are denied Medicaid coverage when their children are taken away, making it difficult for the adults to receive drug treatment to get their lives back on track. 

“I don’t know where the (Republican) party as a whole is even on that expansion with a narrowed scope, but that’s where I am and that’s where I think communities like Robeson and Columbus counties can benefit…,” Britt said.

Rep Brenden Jones poses with his family after being sworn into office on January 9, 2019.

Rep Brenden Jones poses with his family after being sworn into office on January 9, 2019.

With Democrats picking up seats in November’s general election, Republicans lost their veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Britt anticipates the new makeup of the General Assembly leading to more compromise when the budget is written.

“I always kind of have seen myself as a middle-of-the-road elected official,” he said. “My district is very different than other districts. The needs in my district are very different than other districts.”

Wednesday’s session of the legislature was focused on senators and representatives taking their oaths of office and electing officers. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Raleigh on Jan. 30 to start the session in earnest. 

Renaming tobacco road: Rise of hemp and CBD

By Margaret High, special to The News Reporter

Brothers, Adam Wooten and George Wooten

Brothers, Adam Wooten and George Wooten

An empty tobacco warehouse stands on the outskirts of Whiteville, which used to be a pit stop along Tobacco Road. A few more miles outside city limits sit thousands of acres of farmland with run-down tobacco barns, serving no use because most farmers switched to corn and soybeans years ago.

But down one winding road in Columbus County, miles away from the abandoned tobacco warehouse, what’s old is new again. Four acres of a crop that used to proliferate throughout America is growing tall: hemp.

Hemp is harvested for three purposes: stalk, leaves and flower. Countless uses come out of those three providers like paper, fiber, grain and oil. Unlike its cash crop predecessor, hemp isn’t addictive, and you don’t smoke it.

Hemp is part of the cannabis family, which is best known for marijuana, associated with Bob Marley and rolled in joints to be smoked. The chemical in marijuana that causes these associations is THC, which causes the high.

But it would take smoking a hemp joint the size of a telephone pole for someone to feel the effects. Hemp possesses about 0.3 percent THC, where marijuana has between 20 to 24 percent THC.

There’s little known about hemp since it’s been prohibited in the U.S. for almost a century. There’s even less known about CBD, or cannabidiol, one of 118 cannabinoids that many think is a natural cure-all gaining popularity. The sale of CBD oil, which comes from the oil glands found on the plant called trichomes, is growing exponentially in health and beauty markets.

Founder’s Hemp, based in Asheboro, is one of few hemp processing companies in North Carolina. The company opened shortly after the passage of the 2105 Farm Bill, which took hemp off the controlled substance list.

Profit margins on hemp products caught the eye of more than 400 farmers across North Carolina, like George and Adam Wooten. They’re two of 12 hemp farmers in Columbus County.

When marijuana was legalized in Colorado, the Wootens and others enviously read about farmers quickly reaching millionaire status, something a modest corn farmer could only dream of.

The brothers are third-generation farmers who remember helping their grandfather harvest tobacco when they were 7 years old. They also remember a time when farming was more than barely making ends meet.

The Wootens applied for a hemp license in 2017, as did more than 100 other farmers across North Carolina.

“It sounded like something I was interested in and thought I’d like to be in it from the beginning,” George Wooten says. “I didn’t want to play catch up once it started going.”

The same can be said for Sager West, a hemp farmer based in Greensboro, who moved back home in 2017 after learning about the pilot program. West had worked on a medicinal cannabis farm in California and wanted to bring his experience home to grow hemp.

Hemp farmers aren’t exactly what you imagine. Actually, none of it is what you imagine. Hemp was wrongfully lumped with marijuana before the Constitution was written and has suffered the consequences since. To the average person, a hemp farmer sounds like a soft drug dealer growing a handful of stalks in the woods.

One hemp plant costs $7, which can easily equal $12,000 per acre to plant. However, the gross profit for one acre usually equals $30,000 to $35,000.

One hemp plant costs $7, which can easily equal $12,000 per acre to plant. However, the gross profit for one acre usually equals $30,000 to $35,000.

George Wooten couldn’t be further from that image — he barely knows who Bob Marley is. He’s a proud N.C. State graduate with a wife, two kids, and is a third-generation farmer.

Neither could Sager West or Al Averitt, who also farm hemp in North Carolina. They all drive American trucks, wear ball caps and have weathered hands.

Hemp farmers in North Carolina look exactly like sweet potato, peanut and cotton farmers. They’re not in it because CBD oil chills you out, they’re in it because it makes sense from a business standpoint.

One hemp plant costs $7, which can easily equal $12,000 per acre to plant. However, the gross profit for one acre usually equals $30,000 to $35,000.

For comparison, gross profit for a good corn crop is $800; for soybeans, it’s $100.

“There’s nothing out there that’s close to hemp,” George Wooten says. “In the past, tobacco was the cash crop. It was close to what hemp is today, but that’s not the case anymore.”

Put the economic numbers aside. Hemp plants are scavengers, meaning they absorb all the metals and pollutants in the soil. That can hurt the quality of the hemp and reduce the profit, but it also clears out the soil of contaminants and makes for a healthier crop next time around. Some environmental groups are researching hemp plants to help clean polluted lands.

Put the environment aside. CBD oil, the product the Wootens are growing hemp for, helped their oldest sister stop having regular, debilitating migraines.

Sarah Bailey Wooten could only find relief in cold, silent, dark rooms. She would crouch in the corner, wincing at every crack the house made. For years she went to traditional doctors, holistic doctors, and chiropractors.

In January 2018, she started taking small doses of CBD oil, around three to four milligrams a day. Within a month, her migraines began losing frequency and intensity.

“She may have a headache every now and then, but she can still function,” George Wooten says. “It’s been a major, major change for her.”

Over the past five years, more and more products are adding CBD. Beauty products tout the anti-inflammatory products of hemp seed oil. The first FDA approved drug using CBD to prevent seizures was approved this year. People who need painkillers regularly are the largest consumers of oil tinctures.

There are oils, lotions, hair products, night creams, milks and capsules for sale in various places across North Carolina. Hemp retail stores are popping up faster than mushrooms in damp soil.

West credits the health benefits of hemp for spurring his interest in the crop.

He cites epilepsy, anxiety and arthritis as the most common reasons people are curious about hemp products.

West says he knew of an elderly man who bought a CBD salve to treat arthritis in his knee who reported to have reduced symptoms a week later.

“His son was like, ‘I think it’s all in his head,’” West says. “But the man said it’s his knee and he knows what it feels like, so he’s convinced it works.”

Target audiences for CBD products have various ailments: back pain, migraines, nausea, trouble sleeping, stress, neuropathy. Various studies produced by researchers at N.C. State University have backed up the claim that hemp works.

The most unlikely people use CBD oil for relief. There’s the 80-year-old woman tired of chronic arthritis, and the 53-year-old man with migraines. And maybe soon, George Wooten’s 9-year-old son who suffers from severe epilepsy.

There’s no reason for children to not use CBD oil, but generally it’s advised to wait until they are 12 years old for consumption.

Despite the farm bill of 2015 allowing hemp to be removed from the federal list of controlled substances, CBD oil in the Wootens’ crop still feels a little sketchy to some.

Hemp is the identical twin to marijuana: they look exactly the same but are genetically different. Someone driving down the highway might do a double take if they stumbled past the Wootens’ four acres. Someone might even pull over and try to harvest a couple plants for themselves under the illusion they’ll get high from smoking it.

To combat that, the Wootens tucked their plants behind a winding dirt road on the farm where they both grew up harvesting tobacco. It wasn’t exactly hidden but they could keep a close eye on who was coming and going down their driveway.

When the first batch of harvest was ready, they transported the best cuts underneath a tarp to their drying location 10 miles away.

“It felt kind of strange,” George Wooten chuckled. “It wasn’t illegal but it felt kind of secretive.”

Despite a promising first batch, the Wootens weren’t able to profit as much as they’d hoped. The hemp was about one day away from finishing drying when Hurricane Florence tore through Columbus County, leaving the area without power for four days and causing intense humidity, which soaked the plants.

The storm cut the Wootens’ harvest by half.

The hurricane devastated Averitt’s crop, too.

It was Averitt’s second year planting hemp. He was one of the first farmers in North Carolina to get a hemp license.

Averitt’s more interested in industrial hemp, which is harvested for its stalk and used for clothing and parachute material.

Hemp fiber is nothing new: the first clothes in ancient Asia were made from hemp. During World War II, the U.S. government paid farmers to grow industrial hemp to help meet demand for uniforms. Hemp was formally outlawed under the Nixon administration under the belief it was the same as marijuana.

Right now, China is the largest hemp fiber exporter, said Jess Cartonia, co-founder of Founder’s Hemp and of the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Association. Canada takes a close second.

“China’s pretty far ahead with the infrastructure for hemp fiber harvesting,” Cartonia says. “We call it child labor, they call it family farming, but they’re able to process the stalk for pretty cheap and export it to places like the U.S.”

Infrastructure and education are the two biggest pitfalls in the United States. Former tobacco farmers have what they need in place for harvesting, but processing hemp has a long way to go. Hemp seeds are much smaller than normal grains or flower seeds, rendering sunflower seed processing equipment unusable. Hemp fiber is more difficult to process and currently can’t be done through machines.

Politicians are the hardest to convince, Cartonia said. The lack of research doesn’t help.

Because hemp is newly released from prohibition, there has been little research on cannabinoids, like CBD and THC, and the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the human body has years of catching up.

The endocannabinoid system is the reason THC gets you high and CBD relaxes your muscles. It transports chemicals and primes receptors.

Since CBD oil has skyrocketed, researchers are starting to pick up on the momentum and confirm the anecdotes are true: CBD increases appetite, helps calm inflamed nerves, relaxes muscles, improves mood.

Cartonia got into hemp and CBD oil because his brother suffers from Tourette syndrome and it decreases spasms. He had another family member diagnosed with cancer and used CBD capsules to negate chemotherapy side effects.

On all fronts, from farmer to politician, education is key. The Wootens recently opened a holistic wellness store in downtown Whiteville. It’s called Farmacy on Main. They’re installing TVs to run educational videos about hemp and CBD.

North Carolina doesn’t know what hemp can do for the economy, but farmers are willing to bet. The money is tantalizing and times have been tough across the industry. As legislation starts to shake out and regulation comes in, hemp farming is expected to flourish in the former tobacco state.

Their savior might just come as 13 leaves.


Margaret High is a senior Journalism and History major from Whiteville. This story first appeared at

SCC partners with industry, state and county to fund manufacturing career coach

Southeastern Community College has received three years of funding to hire an N.C. Career Coach to support manufacturing students. The coach will focus on recruitment, retention and completion for the Manufacturing Skills Pathway through Workforce Continuing Education and the Advanced Manufacturing Pathway through the Electrical and Mechatronics Engineering Technology curriculum programs.

The funding, which will extend from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022, totals $215,283 over the three-year period. The State Board of Community Colleges awarded $118,746 for this position with $96,537 in local funds from the Columbus County Commissioners and five local companies:  Atlantic Packaging of Tabor City, Council Tool of Lake Waccamaw, Filtec Precise of Tabor City, Honeycutt Produce of Chadbourn and Top Tobacco of Lake Waccamaw.

“This is exciting news,” SCC President Tony Clarke said Tuesday. “It demonstrates what can be done when we partner with employers and our county government.”


Alex Munroe named UNCP Business Person of the Year

Whiteville native Alex Munroe, owner of Cape Fear Vineyard and Winery, was named Business Person of the Year during the 21st annual Business Visions Award Banquet at UNC Pembroke.

Alex Munroe

Alex Munroe

Each year, the Office for Regional Initiatives holds an awards program to recognize and promote success in the business community by recognizing students, entrepreneurs and business leaders. 

Munroe opened Cape Fear Vineyard and Winery, spread over 13 acres in the Elizabethtown Industrial Park, in 2016. It offers both estate wines and other wines as well as a restaurant called The Cork Room. He also owns Cape Fear Systems, which supplies plastics for construction products. 

He started his first company when he was 22. He owns 15 licensed patents for a variety of products, including Alertmat, a detectable warning mat designed to assist visually impaired people cross the street.

“In the dictionary beside the word entrepreneur there is a picture of Alex Munroe,” said Leon Martin, a UNCP Board of Visitors member. 

“Alex is a unique individual. He started a new business in Bladen County that has been very successful and we are very proud of him.”

Munroe employs 40 people at his businesses in Elizabethtown.  

“This is a great honor. I appreciate everyone here at UNCP, including Dr. [Barry] O’Brien and Chancellor Robin Cummings. It’s great that you guys have the Thomas Center for Entrepreneurship and the Business Incubator. It’s a great asset to the community,” Munroe said.

“I want to thank UNCP for this very nice recognition.”

Cape Fear Distillery

One of Munroe’s latest ventures is Cape Fear Distillery, which is located at Cape Fear Vineyard. The company recently sold the first legal bottle of alcohol that was distilled in the area. Cape Fear Distiller’s “Maritime Gin” is available for purchase at the distillery and will be available in ABC stores soon.

According to a new law, a state distiller can sell five bottles of its distilled spirits per person per year at the distillery site, provided that the purchaser takes a distillery tour. Tours at Cape Fear Distillery are $5 and include a free gin tasting. 

“It literally took us six months to develop the recipe for our Maritime Gin,” Munroe said. “The retail space for distilled spirits is very competitive, so we took a methodical approach to the gin’s development and production. We literally hand craft each bottle yet we’re able to keep the retail price at $24.95, which is difficult in small batch production. The effort has been worth it, though, because we now have a terrific gin available at a great price.” 

Rick Neisler of Lake Waccamaw is the head distiller. 

“We wanted our first product to be special and conducive to the active lifestyle of southeastern North Carolina, so we developed a smooth, refreshing gin that’s great to sip beside the ocean or lake or enjoy in a cocktail on a boat,” Neisler said.

Cape Fear Distiller’s “Maritime Gin” is available for purchase at the distillery and will be available in ABC stores soon. Tours at Cape Fear Distillery are $5 and include a free gin tasting.

Cape Fear Distiller’s “Maritime Gin” is available for purchase at the distillery and will be available in ABC stores soon. Tours at Cape Fear Distillery are $5 and include a free gin tasting.

Ground broken at SCC for new technology training center

Within less than a year, an innovative facility will be preparing area citizens for careers in high-tech industries. Southeastern Community College representatives turned the first official shovelfuls of dirt Monday for a new Advanced Manufacturing Training Center.

Student Government Association President Tanner Bullard, Foundation President Terry Mann, Vice President of Administrative Services Daniel Figler, Board Chair Henry Edmund, President Anthony Clarke and board members Robert Ezzell and Gary Lanier heave the fi rst offi cial shovelfuls of dirt at SCC Monday.

Student Government Association President Tanner Bullard, Foundation President Terry Mann, Vice President of Administrative Services Daniel Figler, Board Chair Henry Edmund, President Anthony Clarke and board members Robert Ezzell and Gary Lanier heave the fi rst offi cial shovelfuls of dirt at SCC Monday.

Henry Edmund, chair of the college’s board of trustees, said that the new facility will turn out “multiskilled employees” capable of “doing many things and fixing many things in integrated manufacturing systems.”

The board consulted with area employers, including Council Tool Co., Honeycutt Produce and Atlantic Printing, to find out what current and future employers need in their workforce. Highly trained workers need to be available before new manufacturers will want to settle in Columbus County, Edmund said.

Renderings on display showed a sleek stone-and glass entrance melding onto the one-story brick building. By introducing “a whole new design,” Edmund said the addition will “bring new curbside appeal to the campus.” The project will add about 7,500 square feet to the north side of the existing T Building, near the front entrance to the campus. Earth moving equipment has been in action much of the fall semester, preparing the site.

The project is funded by the college’s $6.8 million share of the Connect N.C. Bond voters approved in March 2016. “We began working with Boomerang Architects to plan the construction in the summer of 2016,” said the college’s president, Anthony Clarke. Clarke hoped construction could be completed next summer, in time for the beginning of the 2019- 2020 year.

Clarke and Vice President of Academic Affairs Michael Ayers detailed some of the technologies that will be taught at the training center, which will include hydraulics, pneumatics, computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining and mechatronics. Clarke and Ayers explained that CNC machining is a method for creating products by translating the design into a numerical model.

Mechatronics combines electrical and mechanical engineering with electronics. The building will provide a large open work floor that will be able to mimic many different industrial processes that students will find in the work world after their training.

The building will include two classrooms for teaching computer-aided drafting and other computer skills. Industries want workers who can “not only run machines but maintain them as well,” Clarke said. He anticipates that the training center will serve degree-seeking students, certificate-earning students and current industrial workers who need continuing education. SCC’s M and B buildings will also receive improvements using the Connect N.C. bond money.

Board chair Edmund thanked SCC’s facilities committee for their work to bring the project to the groundbreaking stage, and he recognized SCC Foundation officers present for the ceremony.

Terry Mann, foundation president and mayor of Whiteville, said he believes the new facility will be “tremendous, not only for the college but for the community” and will possibly help attract businesses to the area.

A sign by the site features a rendering of the Advanced Manufacturing Center under construction at SCC.

A sign by the site features a rendering of the Advanced Manufacturing Center under construction at SCC.

$10.6 million state grant headed to the county schools

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Two views of PreK-8 grade school to be built in Tabor City.

A $10.6 million state grant headed to the county schools will enhance new campuses planned for Cerro Gordo and Tabor City, the board of education has decided.

The Columbus County Board of Education voted Nov. 5 to use proceeds from the Needs-Based School Capital Grant, which was announced last month, to add more space for instruction to the new preK-8 schools they will soon build in Cerro Gordo and Tabor City. The funds can only be used for building purposes and not operating expenses.

Architect David Clinton of Szostak Design presented the board with redrawn plans showing four more classrooms at the Cerro Gordo campus and two more at Tabor City.

The state Department of Public Instruction mandates class sizes and specific room dimensions for the lowest grades. The first set of designs met that requirement, but in the expanded plans, “The rooms are now the recommended size rather than the minimum allowable size,” Clinton said. Science, career technology, art and music spaces will also increase.

There is “plenty of room for expansion,” Clinton said, by adding onto the ends of the buildings’ wings in the future.

The additional space, Clinton said, would answer concerns the board expressed earlier about room for expansion. “You’re looking at a hundred-year school,” he told the board. “It will outlast your grandchildren.”

Board members had been unenthusiastic about Clinton’s drawing of entrances on the previous plans but liked his new portico drawings, based on the columned entrance of the old Tabor City High School.

Instead of four columns at the front of each school, Clinton showed wider entryways with six columns each, which he said would better balance the width of the buildings. The columns will be molded out of low-maintenance fiber-reinforced polyester.

The new exterior drawings also showed contrasting brick accents that Clinton previously said he couldn’t afford to include.

Clinton added other “hundred-year, problem-free” materials to the new plan. The upgrades included standing seam “energy star” metal roofs, non-slip ceramic tile floors in bathrooms and locker rooms in place of sheet vinyl, terrazzo floors in reception/lobby areas and paperless gypsum board.

The board voted to allow Clinton to carry on based on the expanded plans. The board will take further action on plans at the December meeting.

The estimated costs for the two projects rose to $28,302,613.56 for Tabor City and $25,197,386.44 for Cerro Gordo, a total of $53,500,000.00 for the two.

The board authorized payment to Clinton’s firm for plans, to Soles and Walker for surveying services and to ECS Southeast for wetlands delineation.

Interim Superintendent Jonathan Williams called the $10.6 million state grant “a godsend” that will allow the schools to pay for “things we were leaving out” in the previous plans.

Whiteville City Schools was awarded a $4.3 million Needs-Based Public School Facilities Grant last month. The district intends to use the funds to help pay for a rebuild of the Whiteville High School campus.

SCC Rams can be UNCP Braves at the same time

Southeastern Community College students will soon be able to co-enroll at UNC Pembroke, thanks to a new agreement SCC President Tony Clarke and UNCP Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings signed during a ceremony Nov. 5. 

“I’m proud to collaborate with Tony as a partner,” Cummings said to a group of staff, supporters and students in SCC’s Cartrette Building. “In three or four years, every decent job” will require post-secondary training, he said. “And 80 percent of the jobs that will need to be done when today’s babies grow up do not exist now.”

Southeastern Community College President Anthony Clarke and UNC Pembroke Chancellor Robin Cummings.

Southeastern Community College President Anthony Clarke and UNC Pembroke Chancellor Robin Cummings.


That is why, Cummings said, UNCP cooperates with N.C. State University and East Carolina University to provide “Pathways to Success” in engineering and medicine. 

Cummings said that applications for admission to UNCP had increased dramatically due to the N.C. Promise Tuition program, which cuts undergraduate tuition to $500 per semester for N.C. residents. “It’s like getting a $10,000 scholarship.”

The rest of the tuition cost is subsidized by the state. Students are still responsible for housing, food, books and other fees, he said.

“Pembroke is a school of access,” Cummings said. Now, in addition to making it easier for UNCP students to access graduate schools, he wants to make it easier for community college students to transition to bachelor’s degree programs at UNCP.

Under the new Bravestep program, SCC students can be simultaneously enrolled at UNCP. Their course work will transfer to the university. Students will have ID cards for both schools, allowing them to attend plays and concerts at Pembroke or use the athletic facilities and libraries they choose.

Some high school students aren’t ready for the university yet, or they’re still exploring their options, Cummings said. UNCP already has a similar pathway in place with Robeson Community College students. 

“I’d like to thank Tony for reaching out to me and for always being a visionary. We have 90 students from SCC on our (UNCP) campus now, out of 7,000 — that’s over 1 percent — and I wouldn’t mind twice that many.”

Clarke followed Cummings at the podium and described the benefits of the new educational pathway. 

High school graduates from within Columbus County who apply to SCC as their first choice and who meet academic and need qualifications can take advantage of the SCC Success Scholarship to reduce their tuition to zero for two years. 

Now, with the seamless transfer to UNCP and the N.C. Promise Scholarship there, they will be able to attend two more years of college for only $500 per semester, saving $2,600 a year. 

“You get your bachelor’s degree for $2,000,” instead of going into debt, Clarke said. “If you don’t have to borrow to go to college, you shouldn’t.”

Cummings expects UNCP applications to quadruple within the coming months. Although the university is committed to serving southeastern North Carolina students, “At some point we’ll have to cut off” accepting more for the 2019-2020 year. He urged students considering UNCP to send in applications as soon as possible.

Michael Ayers, the community college’s vice president of academic affairs, said he had been counseling a student about her post-SCC options that morning. “She said she was considering UNCP but wasn’t really sure. I told her, ‘Boy, have I got a deal for you!’”

Governor vows ‘We’ll get this done’ during post-Florence visit

By Allen Turner, The News Reporter

For the second time in less than a week, Gov. Roy Cooper was in Columbus County Thursday, this time for a whirlwind tour related to Hurricane Florence damages. Four days after speaking at the funeral for slain N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Kevin Conner at South Columbus High School, the governor visited the newly opened FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in the former Board of Elections office on Legion Drive in Whiteville. He also sat down for a roundtable discussion with officials in Lake Waccamaw and toured Dale’s Seafood, which just reopened at the lake after sustaining damages in the hurricane.

At the DRC, the governor met with staffers from FEMA and N.C. Emergency Management and talked with hurricane victims applying for assistance. Among them was Jeanette King of Ash, who showed the governor more than a dozen pictures of damages sustained at her home. Also on hand to meet the governor at the DRC were Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann, City Manager Darren Currie, Columbus County Commissioner Trent Burroughs, County Manager Mike Stephens, Sheriff Lewis Hatcher and Jennifer Holcomb, president of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. Cooper was accompanied by Pryor Gibson, a former state legislator who is heading up the governor’s new Hometown Strong program.

From Whiteville, the group motorcaded to Lake Waccamaw for a roundtable discussion at Town Hall, a walking tour of Boys and Girls Homes and a visit to Dale’s Seafood. Taking part in the discussion with Cooper in town council chambers were Mayor Daniel Hilburn, Town Manager Gordon Hargrove, Street and Maintenance Supervisor Robert Bailey, Police Chief Scott Hyatt, Fire Chief Jerry Gore, Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor and former town manager Mike Prostinak, Boys and Girls Homes President Gary Faircloth and Holcomb of the Chamber.

Tom and Julie Monroe of Dale’s Seafood look on as Gov. Roy Cooper samples some seafood appetizers Thursday at Lake Waccamaw.

Tom and Julie Monroe of Dale’s Seafood look on as Gov. Roy Cooper samples some seafood appetizers Thursday at Lake Waccamaw.

Cooper praised Lake Waccamaw’s early efforts at recovery after Hurricane Florence. “I appreciate how proactive you have been,” the governor told Hilburn. “We’ve got to be smarter and stronger in our recovery efforts after this storm.

We’ve got to make homes more resilient, and we’ve got to help small businesses that have been hit hard. Small business is the backbone of our economy and we need to do more to help them get back on their feet.”

The governor smiled as Holcomb presented Dale’s Seafood with a check for $500, one of 39 such grants the Chamber has awarded to small businesses in the county to help with Florence recovery efforts. “Rural counties and small towns in southeastern North Carolina have been hit hard by the storm,” Cooper said, “and often they don’t have the resources to recover without help from the state and federal governments.”

State rainy day savings will play a big role as North Carolina recovers from the hurricane, but Cooper said the state wants to get road repair funds from the federal government and state transportation funds before dipping into rainy day savings for highway repairs and related infrastructure.

“We’ve already set aside about $400 million in rainy day funds, but we are going to need significantly more,” said the governor. “The preliminary assessment is that Hurricane Florence did almost $13 billion in damage in North Carolina.

That compares to $4.2 billion in Hurricane Matthew. Hurricane Florence did more damage in North Carolina than Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Floyd in 1999 put together.”

“It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us to recover,” said Cooper, “but I have confidence in the resiliency and determination of North Carolinians to get this done. We’re going to get this done. We have to get it done.”

The governor expressed satisfaction at how the entire state government — his administration and the General Assembly — came together in one accord to quickly put together a $400 million relief package during a short special session of the legislature earlier this month.

Cooper and the General Assembly, particularly Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, have been at odds over the state’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Matthew, but Cooper offered nothing but praise for how the General Assembly had worked with his administration after Hurricane Florence. He also said he expects more relief to come when the General Assembly reconvenes after Thanksgiving.

“We will pull together to do what we have to do to recover. We have to work together. We’re going to have differences on how this gets done, but we’ve done some good work up front. There’s a lot more still to do, but we will get it done.”

Before leaving for another event in Wilmington, Cooper greeted diners at Dale’s Seafood and munched on seafood appetizers.

Masonry student wins national contest

By Diana Matthews

Rossy Ballesteros, an advanced masonry student at Columbus Career and College Academy, won $1,000 in prizes this week for her entry in the Build Your Future contest sponsored by the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

Nancy Ballesteros, left, was learning basic skills in her masonry class this spring as her sister Rossy, right, completed a fi nal Advanced Studies project. Rossy could have graduated in June but decided to stay in school long enough to get her associate degree.

Nancy Ballesteros, left, was learning basic skills in her masonry class this spring as her sister Rossy, right, completed a fi nal Advanced Studies project. Rossy could have graduated in June but decided to stay in school long enough to get her associate degree.


Ballesteros is attending CCCA for a fifth year to earn her associate degree after completing Advanced Studies under the guidance of instructor Fred Mason during the spring.

She previously won prizes in SkillsUSA competition and at the H.A. Hardy Memorial High School Masonry Contest. Ballesteros’ senior masonry project, which she completed in the spring, was a custom-designed mailbox pillar incorporating several specialized bricklaying techniques.

Mason remarked that Ballesteros got frustrated with simple assignments he gave her but was enthusiastic about the more complicated jobs. Ballesteros and Mason created a video about the mailbox project and posted it last month at the NCCER’s “I Built This!” website, along with projects by a dozen other high school and post-secondary students.

Each finalist had the opportunity to explain what he or she had constructed and how. Of the other finalists in the contest, seven had completed, or assisted on, carpentry projects ranging from a doghouse to a house.

Three projects were in the heating/air conditioning/ventilation (HVAC) field, and two were metalworking jobs. Ballesteros was the only contestant exhibiting a masonry project and also the only female. Competition was stiff.

Professional judges awarded first-place honors for individual and group competitions for both secondary and post-secondary students. NCCER judges gave the first-place secondary level awards, both individual and group, to students at Carroll County Career and Technical Center in Maryland.

The individual winner had devised a lifting and log-splitting mechanism to meet the needs of a local business.

]The group award went to two students at the same school who designed and built a set of steel and wood steps for disabled children to use in physical therapy sessions. Post-secondary awards went to apprentices already employed in construction trades.

The individual winner’s video explained his role in retrofitting a Washington, D.C. building’s heating and air conditioning systems to achieve “net zero status,” in which the building would produce the same amount of energy it uses in a year.

The group post-secondary award went to a team of young workers assisting on construction of a college dormitory in Virginia. In addition to the judges’ awards, a People’s Choice category was up for grabs, and that is where Ballesteros swept the field.

Visitors to the website cast a total of 4,916 votes over 17 days, out of which Ballesteros received 2,487 votes, or slightly more than all 12 of her competitors combined, making her the clear winner in the People’s Choice category.

In her video at, Ballesteros describes the stages of her project and says that she enjoys masonry but probably will not make a career of it.

The online video contest “gives aspiring craft professionals and their instructors an opportunity to showcase outstanding construction projects,” according to the sponsoring group.

Whiteville City Schools posts higher graduation rate

By Diana Matthews, The News Reporter

Kenny Garland, superintendent of Whiteville City Schools, announced that the system had achieved one of the highest graduations rates in North Carolina for the latest school year.

North Carolina’s State Board of Education released the 2017-2018 North Carolina Public Schools Accountability Results for 2,538 traditional schools.



The city district’s 2018 graduation rate is 91.3 percent, which places WCS 20th out of 115 public school districts across the State of North Carolina.

Students at North Whiteville Academy, the district’s alternative school, graduated at a rate of 77.4 percent, and Whiteville High School had a graduation rate of 93.3 percent.

The overall rate of 91.3 percent “is the highest graduation rate of all districts in the Sandhills region,” Garland said. “According to my records, this is the highest graduation rate ever achieved by Whiteville City Schools.”

While graduation rates are in the top 20, end-of-grade and end of course standardized testing showed WCS ranking 38th in the number of students from third grade up achieving grade level proficiency (test scores of 3, 4 and 5). Also, the district ranked 44th in College and Career Readiness (scores of 4 and 5).

Measures of College and Career Readiness showed that the district’s English Language Learners placed 4th out of 115 districts statewide. The Hispanic population placed 10th out of 115; students with disabilities placed 13th; the black population placed 14th; the white population placed 18th out of 115 and the economically disadvantaged population 33rd.

The superintendent said that the graduation rates and test scores reflected the work done by teachers from kindergarten level through high school. “I believe the efforts made by our schools to promote the value of a high school diploma along with meeting annually with high school students to review transcripts has been very beneficial to our system,” Garland said.

“Beginning with rising freshmen, each student receives individual guidance on how to achieve a high school diploma. Also, beginning in kindergarten, we emphasize the importance of graduating college and career ready.”

Future editions of The News Reporter will detail high school graduation rates from Columbus County Schools and Thomas Academy, a charter school operated by Boys and Girls Homes.

DMA lands on N.C. Mid-Market Fast 40

Tabor City-based DMA Holdings, Inc. (DMA) has been named one of the top 40 fastest-growing mid-market companies in the state of North Carolina for the second year in a row. The parts manufacturer and supplier to the automotive aftermarket industry climbed six spots to number 9 on the list. 

Presented by Business North Carolina and Cherry Bekaert LLP., in partnership with Manning, Fulton & Skinner, P.A. and Regions Bank, the awards honor privately owned or publicly traded companies that are headquartered in the state of N.C. with a net annual revenue in the range of $10 million to $500 million, which have demonstrated sustained revenue and employment growth over the past three years.

The 40 honorees will be featured in the November issue of Business North Carolina magazine.



Gov. Roy Cooper looks at pictures showing damage to Jeanette King’s house in Ash from Hurricane Florence in front of the Columbus County Disaster Recovery Center Thursday. The newly opened center is in the former County Board of Elections office. Cooper was also scheduled to visit with leaders from Boys and Girls Homes and survey hurricane damage at Dale’s Seafood in Lake Waccamaw.

Gov. Roy Cooper visits the Columbus County Disaster Recovery Center.

Gov. Roy Cooper visits the Columbus County Disaster Recovery Center.

Businesses benefit from hurricane grants

By Diana Matthews

Already 39 county businesses have received $500 apiece as hurricane recovery grants from the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. Jennifer Holcomb, chamber president, was in Lake Waccamaw yesterday morning delivering a check to Dale’s Seafood, and she has traveled the county handing out awards all week. 

“Our application criteria were very broad,” Holcomb said. Recipients had to be small businesses with physical damage from Hurricane Florence. 

The chamber hopes that by infusing “a little bit of capital,” they can help provide struggling businesses with needed momentum “to reopen and keep on employing people.

“A lot more would qualify,” Holcomb said. She hopes the chamber can provide a second round of grants. “That will depend on funding.”

Contributions to the chamber’s recovery fund are tax-deductible. Holcomb said money has arrived in large and small amounts; one Burlington business with connections to the county sent $200. “That was cool,” she said.

Downtown Whiteville business owners visited by The News Reporter said they will apply the chamber’s grants to floors, walls, computer equipment, furniture, extra labor and lost inventory. 

Many of them have already invested large amounts of money, which was not in their budgets, to repair damage. All have put in hard work to reopen. And all expressed gratitude for the $500 grants.

For Furniture Depot, the money is going to be “a help,” said Bobby Pratt Thursday. “I think we’re blessed to get it.” Owner Darian Ransom will apply the money to ongoing restocking and repair projects, Pratt explained. “It will buy a lot of paint. I admire what the chamber’s done.”

Dyrell Hill of Auto Parts Express, on the corner of West Main and Franklin streets, said the money would go toward replacing inventory that was destroyed. 

At Polished Hair and Nail Salon, stylist Tiffany Nealey said there were damages to the stylists’ workstations as well as to the recordkeeping computer equipment. She thought the owner, Jack Yates, and manager, Cheryl Noble, planned floor improvements as well. “There’s a long list of things” that need to be done, she said. 

Nealey and the other stylists worked together during the immediate cleanup stage to get the shop open again, but “We were out of work for two weeks,” she said. “It’s hard being self-employed.”

At Hewett Glass, office manager Gina Ward looks forward to replacing ruined office furniture. The company was closed for a week and a half, then lost additional days of business due to lingering phone problems that kept customers from being able to call in.

Hewett employees cut out and treated the building’s soaked interior walls. “We got that horrendous smell out,” Ward said, and now,  “I desperately want a new desk. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the grant.”

Earl and Diane Stewart are owners of Ed’s Grill on South Madison Street. They plan to replace cracked floor tiles in one dining area and sand and refinish the wooden floor in the other room. As a licensed contractor, Earl Stewart knows how to get the maximum improvement value out of the grant money. 

“It’ll help, and I’m thankful,” Diane Stewart agreed.

Wanda’s School of Dance and Gymnastics has been in its location on East Main Street for 31 years; the building flooded for the first time during Hurricane Florence.

Wanda Thorne’s biggest concern was her custom-built, multi-layer cushioned dance floor, which would be expensive to replace if water rotted it.

Before reopening, she and her husband spent a week of long days removing carpets, scraping up glue, replacing baseboards and painting throughout the building.

Thorne is still not sure that her dance floor is completely out of danger.

The grant money will help to recover some of the supplies the couple bought and two workers they hired. “It will definitely help,” the Thornes agreed. “We’re really grateful.”

Robin Long, owner of The Cutting Edge on Madison Street, missed two weeks of work, during half of which she was unable to travel from her Robeson County home to Whiteville due to road restrictions. “If Teresa (Jacobs, fellow hairdresser) hadn’t been able to come in here and clean up, we’d have been in worse shape,” Long said. The shop was among Whiteville’s first three downtown businesses to reopen. Still, Long found herself short of ready cash for replacing destroyed furniture. She will use her recovery award to provide new seating for her waiting area. “I’m very thankful for the grant program,” said Long.

Robin Long, “I’m very thankful for the grant program.”

Robin Long, “I’m very thankful for the grant program.”

Hearing that yet another downtown business, Sunshine Cleaners, will soon reopen, Long said that people would be excited over the news. “We may not be a big metropolis, but when a business is closed down for a while, people miss it.”

The chamber continues to accept donations for the grant program through a link on its website,, and by mail or in person at 601 S. Madison St., Whiteville, NC 28472.

CCCA student in national construction competition

Columbus Career and College Academy student Rossy Ballesteros is one of 13 finalists in the Build Your Future “I Built This!” contest. The award-winning brickmason and her unique mailbox pillar are featured on a website sponsored by the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

Site visitors can see how Ballesteros built her project and vote for her once per day until Oct. 29 for the People’s Choice category, where $1,000 in prizes are at stake.

Ballesteros has previously won prizes in SkillsUSA competition and at the H.A. Hardy Memorial High School Masonry Contest.

Ballesteros is attending CCCA for a fifth year in order to earn her associate degree after completing Advanced Studies under the guidance of instructor Fred Mason during the spring.

The online video contest “gives aspiring craft professionals and their instructors an opportunity to showcase outstanding construction projects,” according to the site.

Columbus Career & College Academy masonry instructor Fred Mason and student, Rossy Ballesteros, a finalist in the Build Your Future contest. 

Columbus Career & College Academy masonry instructor Fred Mason and student, Rossy Ballesteros, a finalist in the Build Your Future contest. 

Educators pledge transparency with sales tax funds

By Diana Matthews

The boards of both local school systems and Southeastern Community College want voters to know how funds raised from the proposed sales tax would be put to use.

The Southeastern Community College Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution Oct. 9 in favor of the sales tax increase. The resolution said in part:

“Whereas, if passed, Southeastern Community College will provide an annual report to the citizens of Columbus County how the monies are spent for capital outlay needs within the system; 

“Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Board of Trustees of Southeastern Community College urges all registered voters of Columbus County, North Carolina to vote in favor of the Quarter-Penny Sales and Use Tax in the general election on Nov. 6, 2018.”

SCC President Tony Clarke said that the sales tax money will not take the place of funds already budgeted for facilities improvements at the community college but will supplement those funds, allowing greater improvements. He said four major areas where the funds will be immediately used are the welding program, improving library usage, updating science labs and expanding student services.

“We’re in a competitive environment in higher education,” Clarke said. Improving facilities, he said, will allow SCC to do a better job training workers in skills needed for business and industry. “It will help us contribute to economic development,” he said.

The community college will provide a report to the county each year detailing how the sales tax funds have been spent in pursuit of its stated goals.

“We will use the money for capital outlay — for buildings — only,” said Coleman Barbour, chairman of the Whiteville City Schools board. “We will take steps to let people see that we’re using the money appropriately, as we said we would and as the commissioners told us. We will not use the money for anything other than buildings.”

The Columbus County Board of Education passed a similar resolution Sept. 10, the same evening as the city school board.

County schools spokesman Kelly Jones said that, if the tax increase passes, “It means for the cost of 25 cents for every $100 spent, our school system will receive much-needed funds to make crucial repairs.

“We will give a detailed report at the end of each fiscal year describing the exact uses of the funds. This will be posted on our website no later than 30 days from the end of the fiscal year,” Jones said.

The transparency resolution was a proposal by the county commissioners. 

Burr, Acosta and Tillis visit downtown Whiteville

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, left, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, left, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, left, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis listen to county officials and Whiteville business people who were impacted by Hurricane Florence flooding Monday, October 15. The delegation included U.S. Rep. David Rouzer and toured Fair Bluff later in the afternoon.