Economic developer offers reassurance about safety of big cat rescue in Fair Bluff

By Allen Turner, The News Reporter

Gary Lanier, director of the county’s economic development program, sought Monday night to reassure the two county commissioners who represent residents of Fair Bluff that a proposed big cat wildlife sanctuary there will be safe. Lanier’s remarks came during a departmental update he presented during a scheduled commissioners’ meeting

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Commissioner Ricky Bullard, a portion of whose district stretches into the Fair Bluff town limits, said he had heard from some former residents of the town who were displaced by hurricanes in the last three years that they are afraid to return to Fair Bluff out of a fear that animals might escape. “I know it’s probably going to be a good thing. I’m not kicking it, but there is a big concern with almost everybody in the city limits of Fair Bluff about having those wild cats right there,” Bullard said.

Commissioner Jerome McMillian, whose district includes an even larger portion of the incorporated town limits, said that former residents also have expressed the same reservations to him. Fair Bluff officials have voiced concern that a loss of population since the hurricanes will be catastrophic for the town’s finances because much of the municipality’s revenue from state and federal sources is dependent on population.

Although similar safety concerns were expressed by town officials and residents in zoning meetings when the sanctuary was first proposed, those concerns were satisfied and the town government has been enthusiastic about welcoming the animal sanctuary.

“The facility will be safe,” Lanier told commissioners. “You probably heard about a big cat recently killing a lady at a sanctuary near Greensboro, and those former Fair Bluff residents probably have heard about it, too, but the facility where that happened was not accredited.” Lanier said that Shazir Haque (founder of the proposed Fair Bluff rescue) has made sure that his refuge will be fully accredited and meet the same safety specifications as the zoos in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta from which no animals have ever escaped.

Haque heard similar concerns during the earlier zoning meetings in Fair Bluff and successfully convinced citizens and town commissioners that his project will pose no risks to area residents.

The entire facility will be surrounded by a 12- foot high perimeter fence, which is awaiting preliminary inspection from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lanier said. After the first inspection, the fence will be completed. Inner fences will be other fence enclosures containing the animal habitats themselves.

Not only are the den boxes within those enclosures above the flood level, but also evacuation plans already exist for tranquilizing the animals and temporarily moving them to another facility should it become necessary. Lanier suggested, and commissioners agreed, that it might alleviate safety concerns if the county organizes a field trip to a similar big tiger rescue in Pittsboro, a facility from which no animal ever has escaped.

Commissioner Charles McDowell suggested, and Lanier and other commissioners agreed, that a video should be made of the field trip to be shared with senior citizens groups, churches and other groups. “Y’all need to work on the [public relations], because safety is a big concern for Fair Bluff to get the people back in there,” Bullard said as McMillian nodded in agreement.

Commissioners accept Riegelwood water customers into county system

By: Allen Turner, The News Reporter

Columbus County commissioners, following a nearly two-hour closed session Monday night, unanimously agreed to add customers of the Riegelwood Sanitary District (RSD) to the county’s water system and voted to lower the rate for industrial and municipal customers throughout the county from $7.10 to $4.45 per thousand gallons of water used.

Technically, what commissioners agreed to was the acceptance of a gift to the county by the RSD.

Commissioners agreed to terms of a resolution passed a week earlier by the board of the RSD moving all tangible assets (except accounts receivable, cash and bank accounts) to the county, including any storage tanks, connections and meters and all easements and rights of way to the county. The “gift” also includes all customers of the RSD.

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Excluded from the transfer will be real property at 210 Riegelwood Shopping Center and a tank and real property at 207 Waccamaw Rd. They will continue to be owned by RSD.

If the transition goes as planned, RSD customers will receive one more monthly water bill from the RSD, with all future bills after that coming from Columbus County Water and Sewer District IV, according to Harold Nobles, the county’s director of public utilities.

Monday’s closed session also was devoted to personnel issues, economic development and attorney-client privilege, although no other action was taken after the closed session.

Department of Social Services Director Algernon McKenzie met with commissioners for a portion of the closed session. In other business during the public portion of the meeting that preceded the closed session, commissioners spent less than a minute in rejecting without any discussion an application by Med1 NC Services for a franchise to operate a non-emergency ambulance service in the county.

Commissioner Ricky Bullard made a motion that was seconded by Charles McDowell and unanimously approved to keep the county’s medical transport franchise list “as is,” despite the fact that Med1 representatives and Tabor City Mayor Pro Tem Lamont Grate were in the audience. Grate was there to tell commissioners that the Tabor City town council endorsed Med1’s plan to locate in Tabor City, creating about 40 jobs. However, neither Grate nor the Med1 representatives were offered a chance to speak.

Commissioners did not hear a scheduled presentation from a representative of the U.S. Census Bureau because the census representative failed to show up for the meeting. In other business, commissioners scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m. on a public transportation grant; heard a DSS departmental update from McKenzie and, as reported elsewhere in this issue; held three public hearings and took action on economic development matters; heard an update on security and safety in county buildings from Purchasing and Safety Director Stuart Carroll and recognized Tanner David Wilson for earning the Eagle award, the highest honor in Boy Scouting.

Free Fitness Court opens in Whiteville

Columbus County was the first North Carolina location to open a “Fitness Court” with the launch of a newly constructed facility on Government Complex Road in Whiteville Wednesday morning. 

Left to right : Adam Linker, Project Officer-Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust  Clarence Williams, Vice Chair-Columbus County Recreation Advisory Board  Trent Burroughs, Chairman-Columbus County Commissioners  Julie M. Strickland, Director-Columbus County Parks and Recreation  Kim Smith, Director-Columbus County Public Health  Edwin Russ, Columbus County Commissioner (standing behind Mrs. Smith)  Leo Green-Green Engineering  James Prevatte- Columbus County Commissioner  Mike Stephens, County Manager (green shirt)

Left to right : Adam Linker, Project Officer-Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust

Clarence Williams, Vice Chair-Columbus County Recreation Advisory Board

Trent Burroughs, Chairman-Columbus County Commissioners

Julie M. Strickland, Director-Columbus County Parks and Recreation

Kim Smith, Director-Columbus County Public Health

Edwin Russ, Columbus County Commissioner (standing behind Mrs. Smith)

Leo Green-Green Engineering

James Prevatte- Columbus County Commissioner

Mike Stephens, County Manager (green shirt)


The Columbus County Parks and Recreation Department opened the outdoor gym to the public Wednesday during a 9 a.m. kickoff.  After a brief ceremony and ribbon cutting, locally trained Fitness Court ambassadors demonstrated how to use the court’s features. The public  also learned about a free mobile app allowing users to take classes and learn workout routines. The event also featured healthful snacks from local vendors and swag giveaways.

The bodyweight circuit training facility is suitable for adults (ages 14+) of all fitness abilities and is completely free of cost.

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Verizon to add new cell towers in Columbus

By: Allen Turner, The News Reporter

Verizon Wireless, acknowledging frustrations of many customers in parts of Columbus County, says it will construct three and perhaps four new cell sites in the county in an attempt to alleviate problems but blamed service disruptions at the Fair Bluff site on an unnamed third-party vendor.

Kate Jay, an Atlanta based Verizon public relations spokesperson, said in an email Wednesday afternoon that new sites in Tabor City and Cerro Gordo are expected to be on the air by the end of this year and that another between Tabor City and Chadbourn is expected in 2020.

New sites in Tabor City and Cerro Gordo are expected to be on the air by the end of this year and another between Tabor City and Chadbourn is expected in 2020.

New sites in Tabor City and Cerro Gordo are expected to be on the air by the end of this year and another between Tabor City and Chadbourn is expected in 2020.


“We have heard and understand the concerns and frustrations of our customers in some parts of Columbus County. As a result, we have accelerated plans for several new cell sites in the area,” Jay said.

In addition, a Verizon engineer and a governmental affairs director from Verizon told Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, this week that a possible fourth site at an unnamed Columbus County location could be established next year.

Verizon’s Columbus County service issues were highlighted in a July 23 story in The News Reporter revealing that Jones received over 2,000 complaints after posting on social media about Verizon’s problems here.

As a result, Jones was able to talk this week with the Verizon engineer and governmental affairs director, who shared with him plans for the new sites in the county. However, Jones said that although he specifically mentioned the ongoing problems at the Fair Bluff site, they didn’t talk about any plans or efforts to resolve the situation there. They told Jones they were “going to look into this area,” he said.

Jay, the public relations spokesperson, blamed the problems in Fair Bluff on fiber (cable) cuts by a third party vendor. “Though the site is operating normally at this time…Our network team is aggressively investigating opportunities for improvement and will take appropriate action as needed,” she wrote in an email.

The News Reporter tried unsuccessfully to reach Jay by phone to ask why Verizon believes the problems in Fair Bluff are because of a third-party vendor, especially since other sites in the county and region don’t appear to be plagued by such cable cuts.

Verizon customers served by the cell site in Fair Bluff have experienced outages several times in the last several months, service disruptions lasting from a few hours to a few days. In some months they have experienced only one outage, but service interruptions have occurred in greater numbers in other months.

Jay acknowledged receipt of an email in which we asked her seven specific questions, but she did not respond to those questions.

“Verizon has built its brand on network reliability,” Jay said, “and when our customers are not getting the network experience they expect from Verizon, we encourage them to contact customer service and open a trouble ticket. These are entered into our system and allow our network team to identify and respond more quickly to potential issues. We will then work with our customers on an individualized basis to find a solution that works best for them.”

Jay did not reply to a specific question about whether Verizon views service interruptions as a safety issue for customers who rely on their cell phones for connectivity to medical and law enforcement first responders. Jones said he intends to continue to stay in contact with Verizon. “They have promised to provide me with further information on the upgrades in Columbus moving forward,” he said. News of planned cell sites in Cerro Gordo, Tabor City and between Tabor City and Chadbourn will likely be well received by Verizon customers who have noted “dead zones” without cell service along parts of U.S. 76 in the Cerro Gordo area and along parts of N.C. 904 between

The "Fifteen under 40" Class of 2019

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The News Reporter recognized the fifteen under 40 Class of 2019 during a ceremony Thursday night at Vineland Station. Nominations were submitted from the community. An independent panel of judges considered the nominees’ impact on Columbus County, professional success and involvement, achievement and commitment to improving the community. The Class of 2019 pictured, front row, from left: Rachel Todd, Jason Graham, C. Ashley Gore, Jenny Clore and LaShoney Frink. Second row, Greg Jacobs, Garrett Tolley, Jennifer Phipps, Amanda Dale, Jason Soles, Daniel Britt, Nikki Walker, Jordan B. Carter, Kalee Hill and Dustin Fowler. See additional photos at

Downtown interest blossoming despite Florence flooding

By Les High and Diana Matthews, The News Reporter

Since 2016, the blocks between Walter Street and Soules Swamp in Whiteville have suffered two destructive floods and a series of business closings, but building owners and businesspeople are still investing their energy to bring life to empty buildings.

Naysayers believed flooding from Florence would be the end to downtown, and although some businesses have moved or closed, interest in downtown properties has been high.

Developer John Fisher is optimistic that work on U.S. 701 Bypass will make it easier for north- and southbound traffic to pull into Whiteville via a new entrance alongside BB&T’s planned building at the Columbus Street intersection.

“These are huge positive things for downtown,” Fisher said.

Several buildings have sold or are close to being sold, and some of the people who have bought them have big plans.

East Main Street boasts four new businesses that reopened after the flood and another one that will open soon.

East Main Street boasts four new businesses that reopened after the flood and another one that will open soon.


A busy block

The block of East Main Street facing the railroad tracks is one area that has seen a noticeable resurgence since last year. The Farmacy on Main salt spa and kombucha bar/retail shop opened in a previously vacant space in November.

Polished Hair and Nail salon occupies the former Body Beautiful location just east of Smith Chiropractic Clinic. When dance instructor Wanda Thorne retired, instructor Summer Hinson  reopened the site as Hidden Language Dance Company, with a refreshed front.

Brothers Adam and George Wooten plan to build on the success of their Farmacy by opening a tap room next to Columbus Insurance Company in a now-vacant spot.

Apartments and more

Fisher’s renovation of the Paul Leder Apartments on East Commerce Street is an example of the optimism now taking hold. “I’m hoping to have those ready this fall,” he said. “We’ve rented one and are taking applications. We’re taking our time.” The apartments, all on the ground floor, will have a security system, paved parking and outdoor lighting.

Fisher said his storage facility at 135 E. Main St. was doing well and he was hoping to open an event center in the old Cinema around the corner on South Madison Street.

J.E. Thompson has a plan to turn the former Pope’s Five and Dime along with the adjacent Pawn and Gun in the 800 block of South Madison into apartments and business space.

“The bank is working on the financing,” Thompson said. “It’ll happen in two phases. The first phase is apartments on the second floor.” The building has 5,000 square feet upstairs. For the 10,000-square-foot ground floor, “I’m working with a business to possibly move in.”  The business, Thompson said, was formerly located in Whiteville, and the owner is considering moving back.

The old Meares Hardware store next to Thompson’s property on Madison Street has been bought and is undergoing major renovation, and the former Waccamaw Bank call center has been purchased, as has the former Sherwin Williams building. There is interest in the Lewis Smith Shopping Plaza.


Greg and Lynne Hewitt, owners of Nautilus on Frazier Street, expanded their fitness business to one of the former Body Shapers locations at 617 S. Madison Street. The property opened June 28 as a 24-hour women-only workout facility. Members let themselves in the front door with magnetic key cards.

“I think we found the perfect niche,” Greg Hewitt said.

The building was in better shape than it appeared to be after Hurricane Florence; water flooded in because the adjacent storefront’s roof collapsed, but Jeff and Cindy Faulk had previously replaced the roof at the 24-hour gym. The Hewitts updated the flooring and walls, creating a more upscale atmosphere. The facility has more than a dozen cardio exercise and strength training machines, Wifi, self-service cold water and a large-screen TV playing exercise moves clients can follow on the mats below.

Downtown advocates have been working to get the N.C. Vocational Rehabilitation office downtown, as state officials have narrowed the list to the downtown address and a strip center.

Flooding and government interventions

The elephant in the room about a downtown resurgence is flooding. The city is currently in the process of completing a major upgrade of underground infrastructure that will remove more water off Madison Street between the chamber of commerce building and the railroad, extending to Lee Street.

A larger fix, if there is one, for Soules Swamp is in the planning stages, but officials concede that any area that gets 23 inches of rain in three days will be faced with flooding.

A citywide storm water fee has been implemented to provide more funding for flooding issues.

Now is a good time for investors with capital gains from any source to invest them in downtown and skip paying taxes they otherwise would have owed on those dollars, Fisher said.

“Downtown Whiteville is in what they call an Opportunity Zone,” he said.

The tax plan passed by Congress in 2017, Fisher said, makes it easier for investors to take gains they made in the stock market or in other ventures and use that money to improve properties in more depressed urban areas.

“If you had $10,000 worth of Apple stock, for instance,” Fisher said, “and you sold it and made money, you can take all that value and reinvest 100 percent of it in an Opportunity Zone” without paying capital gains tax first.

“It’s a way to attract new investment into areas that need it.”

Another government incentive is the historic district program. The city is just short of having enough complying buildings to have downtown designated as a historic district. This would allow building owners who carry out historical renovations to receive up to a 40 percent tax credit on the project. If the city can identify 11 more buildings that would fit the criteria, downtown would qualify as a historic district. Historic districts have been critical components in the restoration of downtowns across the nation.

New ventures

JACI Party and Event Rentals at 710 S. Madison St. opened March 9 with the goal of turning customers’ party dreams into reality, said co-owners Joy Green and Carole Higgins.

It’s more economical to rent real dishes than to buy disposable ones, Green said, and customers get the additional benefit of Higgins’ creative and elegant tablescaping ideas. However, JACI will soon have disposable dishes and tablecloths for customers who prefer that option.

Higgins, JACI’s inventory and design specialist, frequently changes the displays in the shop, which spark customers’ ideas for their own events. Most of the shop’s customers have come in for help with weddings, reunions and church events, the owners said.

Both women were busy Saturday as customers came to pick up chairs for a wedding and fill up pink and blue helium balloons for a “gender reveal” party.

“Whoever thought of this idea (of throwing parties to announce the sex of a baby on the way) should be really rich,” Higgins said. “It’s another opportunity to have a party, eat, give gifts and enjoy family time.

“But the one who thought of it first probably isn’t the one who turned it into a big thing,” she said. “That’s how it goes.”

JACI is a member of Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism and will hold a ribbon-cutting and open house with door prizes and party food Saturday, Aug. 3, from 3-6 p.m..

Next door to JACI, Julissa Gachett and Lauren Thurman’s hair salon opened in April. “Braids are pretty much what we do,” said Thurman as she worked on a young customer’s long hair. “We also do dreads, all natural hair,” she said.

Fisher is in serious negotiations with a restaurateur about the vacant Big W site (formerly Southern Kitchen), which they hope to develop into “a high-end steakhouse and a nice bar,” he said.

“There’s a lot of investment going on,” Fisher said. “A lot of it is in anticipation of new developments downtown. This is a great time to invest,” he said. “Probably the greatest opportunity in my lifetime is going on right now. I believe it, and I’ve put my money behind it.”

Valentines’ donation will help build Whiteville High School

By: Diana Matthews, The News Reporter

Whiteville High School alumni Bill Valentine and Jane Dorward Valentine appeared at the city school board meeting this evening offering a gift a $250,000 for school construction. The board accepted the donation unanimously.

Bill Valentine took the podium briefly and spoke with a trembling voice of the pride he and his wife still have for their alma mater. “It was really great then,” he said, “and I’m sure it’s even better now.”

Whiteville City Schools staff and friends thank Bill and Jane Dorward Valentine for their gift of $250,000 for school construction.

Whiteville City Schools staff and friends thank Bill and Jane Dorward Valentine for their gift of $250,000 for school construction.


Valentine, a retired architect, said he has been closely following the plans for new construction at WHS and believes the design created by LS3P Associates “should make a really terrific high school.”

The finished facility will be “as different as night and day from the other high schools in Columbus County,” Valentine said, and “it looks like it belongs in Whiteville, which I think is a real asset.”

The city schools accepted bids from general contractors in December and hoped to have a contract within a few weeks, but all bids came in well over budget. During the spring semester WCS and LS3P negotiated with the apparent low bidder to scale back on some of their hoped-for features before they could obtain financing. As of Monday morning, the school system’s USDA loan application was still in process, Superintendent Marc Whichard said.

Knowing that construction cost overruns are a fact of life everywhere, Valentine said,  “We promised to donate a quarter of a million bucks to help with construction costs.”

The couple is at the end of a five-week visit to their hometown. “We won’t be here for the groundbreaking,” Valentine said, but he and his wife would be sharing the happiness on that day, and “you’ll hear a Yahoo! from California.”

Upon the board’s approval of the gift, board chairman Coleman Barbour told the Valentines, “Here’s that Yahoo!” The audience gave a standing ovation to the couple and filed by to shake hands and express thanks.

Whichard, who was sworn in as superintendent just a few minutes before the Valentines’ presentation, called the couple’s impact on the community “amazing.” At the last school board meeting they donated funds to purchase digital subscriptions to The News Reporter for WHS students. “I think getting kids to read the newspaper is a really important thing,” Bill Valentine said.

‘We are the American story’: Council Tool participates in White House Made in America Showcase

Council Tool President John Council and his son, Cameron, traveled from their family’s 133-year old manufacturing plant in Lake Waccamaw to represent North Carolina Monday at the White House’s Made in America Product Showcase. It was their first time setting foot in the White House.

Cameron Council, left, and his father John Council of Council Tool present Vice President Mike Pence with a custom axe Monday during the Made in America Showcase at the White House.

Cameron Council, left, and his father John Council of Council Tool present Vice President Mike Pence with a custom axe Monday during the Made in America Showcase at the White House.


“It feels kind of surreal,” John Council said, standing behind an 8-foot table that contained a variety of the company’s forged tools, including axes and hammers. “We’re glad to be here. We’re really excited about it.”

Although he appreciated the invitation, John Council said he wasn’t sure why the company was selected to represent the state. 

“When we ask they say ‘you’re supporting American manufacturing and employing American workers.” Council said. “So whatever the reason is, we’re just excited and thrilled to be here.”

Cameron Council, a supply chain manager with the family business, said his great-great grandfather John Pickett Council, who founded Council Tool, in 1886 would be honored to have the company represented at the White House. 

“In a way, we are the American story,” Cameron Council said, explaining that the company’s products are still 100 percent American made. “And that won’t change.”

The showcase displays, spread throughout several rooms inside the White House, featured a wide range of products from one company in each state, including boots from Montana, cowboy hats from Wyoming and sandals from Florida. 

Vice President Mike Pence toured the showcase, and the Councils were able to present him with a custom axe. Several members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet attended, including Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. 

Large products, like motorcycles manufactured in Indiana and a boat built in South Carolina, were displayed on the south lawn of the White House where President Donald Trump addressed attendees, including the Councils, shortly after noon. 

In his remarks, Trump touted strong economic growth under his administration, including 600,000 new manufacturing jobs since he was elected in 2016. 

“And that number is going to go substantially higher,” the president said.

Trump said that last year saw the largest increase in manufacturing jobs in 25 years and that the United States is “reawakening our industrial might.”

In an interview prior to the speech, John Council praised the president’s stance on trade. 

“This administration is the first in a long time that I think really gets it,” Council said. “There’s no such thing as free trade. There’s managed trade, and they’re taking a hard stance — particularly with China — which is I think is what’s required. We want a free market, we want a free enterprise culture, but we want our government fighting for us as far as trade is concerned.”

Jobs Foundation OKs entrepreneurial study

The Columbus Jobs Foundation board voted at its quarterly board meeting Thursday to pursue a feasibility study for an entrepreneurial center.

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Entrepreneurial centers, sometimes referred to as business incubators, provide shared space and expertise for small businesses to grow. Once a business gets a toehold in its respective market, typically after two to three years, the owners find their own space in the community and grow, creating new jobs.

Entrepreneurial center committee chairperson Jonathan Medford told the board that the study will examine potential sites and make recommendations. The Jobs Foundation then plans to pursue a federal economic development grant that is an 80/20 match.

The Town of Tabor City recently received a similar grant and plans to renovate an abandoned downtown furniture store. A business incubator on the outskirts of Tabor City, which includes the Ganz plush toy company and RadixBay computing support center, is now full.

This year, the Jobs Foundation has created committees that will explore opportunities beyond its usual task of assisting the county’s Economic Development Commission in business and industrial recruitment.

In addition to the entrepreneurial committee, other committees include one to promote private residential development to increase the tax base and support service industry jobs, another to develop a 3 1/2-mile hard trail along the south side of Lake Waccamaw State Park to attract fitness enthusiasts and ecotourism, and Fair Bluff recovery.

The Columbus Jobs Foundation is a non-profit corporation with a volunteer board that supports economic development in Columbus County. The group also operates Southeast Regional Industrial Park near Union Valley.

Three local leaders graduate from REDI

By Clara Cartrette, The News Reporter

Three Columbus County residents recently completed rural leadership training at the N.C. Rural Center.

They include Latoya Beatty, MD, MPH, founder of her newly designed organization, Alumni in Action: Bolton and Neighbors Recovery Team; Devoria Berry, CEO of Community Support Agency; and Susan Rockel, manager of the Columbus County Farmers Market.

Devoria Berry, Latoya Beatty and Susan Rockel, left to right, were selected for and successfully completed the 2019 N.C. Rural Center’s Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI).

Devoria Berry, Latoya Beatty and Susan Rockel, left to right, were selected for and successfully completed the 2019 N.C. Rural Center’s Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI).


They graduated June 6 from the N.C. Rural Center’s Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI), an intensive, three-month training program designed for rural community leaders.

Rural Center President Patrick Woodie presented certificates to the program’s 30 graduates. Attending the graduation service by invitation were Columbus County residents Randolph Keaton, executive director of Men and Women United for Youth and Families, and Bolton Mayor Shawn Maynor. Both completed the REDI program in 2016.

For 29 years, REDI has helped leaders improve their leadership skills and increase their knowledge of economic and community development strategies, equipping them with tools they need to tackle issues facing rural North Carolina.

“This year’s REDI class had tremendous passion for and commitment to their rural communities,” said Bronwyn Lucas, the Rural Center’s director of leadership development. “The Rural Center recognizes the critical link between rural leaders who are inclusive, connected and informed, and the potential for creative, healthy and more vibrant rural communities across our state. We are proud to have this class as the newest members of our growing network of leadership alumni.”

This year’s REDI participants included elected officials, economic development professionals, health care professionals and civic leaders. More than 1,200 rural leaders have graduated from REDI since the program began in 1989.

Profiles on Beatty, Berry and Rockel about how they will use the knowledge they learned at REDI will follow in later editions of The News Reporter.

Lake gives nod to trail grant application

By: Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

The long-planned trail that would allow bicyclists and pedestrians to circle Lake Waccamaw got a new lease on life Tuesday.

Commissioners approved a request by the Friends of Lake Waccamaw State Park to apply for a Department of Transportation grant to study and plan a trail circling through the town and the park.

Commissioners approved a request by the Friends of Lake Waccamaw State Park to apply for a Department of Transportation grant to study and plan a trail circling through the town and the park.

Commissioners approved a request by the Friends of Lake Waccamaw State Park to apply for a Department of Transportation grant to study and plan a trail circling through the town and the park.

Harry Foley, president of the Park Friends, emphatically promised the board that the grant would come at no cost to the town. “We pledge that there will never be a request for town monies to fund any portion of this project,” he said.

The town’s only responsibility is to submit the application, Foley said. The $35,000 matching grant will require ten percent from the town. Foley said those funds have already been committed from other sources.

That money will be provided to the town as the grant applicant before the application is signed and sent to the DOT. “We will do all the work, and you will get all the credit,” Foley said.

A similar project was in the works while Foley was town manager, but funding for the program was stopped when Gov. Roy Cooper made changes to a number of programs shortly after his election.

The grant is for planning and engineering, not construction, Foley said.

Work would only begin if the grant application is approved in November. Foley noted that ecotourism is on the rise in North Carolina, and events like the annual Take The Lake challenge would make good use of the enhanced trail – and bring money into the town.

“Look at the loss of those jobs in Fair Bluff last week,” he said. “The future isn’t big manufacturers any more. We have to look at different forms of economic development. Ecotourism can be a godsend to our county. What better destination can there be than Lake Waccamaw?”

The commissioners unanimously approved submitting the application.

‘fifteen under 40’ class of 2019 announced; celebration is July 18 at Vineland Station

The “fifteen under 40” class of 2019 is another outstanding group. An outside panel of judges chose 15 young professionals from nominations submitted to The News Reporter.

The “fifteen under 40” class of 2019 includes Amanda Dale, Daniel Britt, Jordan B. Carter, Jenny Clore, Dustin Fowler, LaShoney Frink, C. Ashley Gore, Jason Graham, Kalee Hill, Greg Jacobs, Jennifer Cox Phipps, Jason Soles, Rachel Todd, Garrett Tolley and Nikki Walker. The News Reporter invites the public to celebrate the “fifteen under 40” class of 2019 with friends, family and co-workers July 18 at Vineland Station in Whiteville for an evening of music, fun and food.

2019 Class of Fifteen under 40

2019 Class of Fifteen under 40

The News Reporter, along with local businesses and organizations, uses the event to acknowledge the next generation of leaders for what they do above and beyond their workplaces to make Columbus County a special place to live. “Readers will enjoy learning how this group of influencers is making a difference in Columbus County. They have commitment and compassion for their communities,” said Becky High, director of business development at The News Reporter and organizer of the event.

A special, magazine style publication featuring the 15 young leaders will be included into the Tuesday, July 16 edition of The News Reporter. Judges found it difficult to select only 15 people, High said, and the panel encourages readers to resubmit nominees not selected this year for the class of 2020.

Actress lends a hand at Fair Bluff cat sanctuary under construction

Persistence and an inability to take no for an answer on the part of Shazir “Shizzy” Haque, developer of By By Allen Turner, The News Reporter

Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue, resulted in a television and movie star being on hand in Fair Bluff Saturday to help about 60 other volunteers with development of the first of 11 planned habitats on the former Fair Bluff Motors property.

Canadian-born actress Jessica Parker Kennedy played in the CW’s “Secret Circle” and “The Flash” series, and in the Starz original “Black Sails.” She’s also appeared in the “Supergirl” TV series and the 2018 movies “Cam” and “Deep Murder.” But Saturday she was in Fair Bluff lending elbow grease to the wild cat sanctuary project.

Kennedy said she has always been a lover of animals and, because of that, Haque contacted her on Instagram to ask whether she would take his telephone call. “He was extremely persuasive,” she said. “He doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.” While she and Haque share a major love of animals, Kennedy said, “He’s the brains behind figuring out how to do something like this.”

Saturday was only the most recent of several days in which volunteers converged on the sanctuary site, and Kennedy flew into North Carolina from Los Angeles to take part. Other volunteer workdays are planned.

Actress Jessica Kennedy Parker volunteers in the construction of Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue in Fair Bluff Saturday. Staff photo by Allen Turner.

Actress Jessica Kennedy Parker volunteers in the construction of Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue in Fair Bluff Saturday. Staff photo by Allen Turner.


This weekend, volunteers concentrated on finishing an enclosed animal habitat, the first of 11 planned for the facility, and constructing platforms for the animals that will be included as part of the habitat. Kennedy wielded a power hammer to help drive nails into the platforms.

Haque, who is based in Greensboro but who plans to live in Fair Bluff full time when the sanctuary opens around August of 2020, says the project is on schedule. Clearing and de-stumping of one large lot that was previously forested has been completed and de-stumping efforts are continuing on an adjoining lot, in large measure due to financial assistance the non-profit venture is receiving from the Columbus Jobs Foundation.

Haque expects P&W Fencing Company to install the first 20 feet of a perimeter fence that will surround the entire property in about three weeks, after which inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be called in. If those inspectors like the construction of the first 20 feet of fencing and the first animal habitat, construction of the rest of the fence and other animal habitats will be completed.

The property has already cleared environmental hurdles imposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as receiving zoning approvals from the Town of Fair Bluff. The USDA inspection process is the next step in the process.

The sanctuary will be located on about 50 acres donated by Capital Investments of Fair Bluff on the former Fair Bluff Motors property that was decimated in Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

It already has four full-time employees funded through the N.C. Works program at Southeastern Community College and when it opens next year Shizzy’s intends to hire 10-20 full time employees and 30-50 unpaid volunteers.

The facility will be devoted primarily to big cats such as tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards, as well as black bears and wolves. While his group works primarily with a good mix of both predatory and prey animals, Haque says they don’t turn any animals away. “For example,” Haque says, “we recently got a call to rescue a cow.” The group has even been involved in the rescue of 86 dogs and cats from all over the United States.

There will be 16-foot fences around the animal enclosures – more than the required 12-foot fences – and additional eight-foot fence around the perimeter of the entire property, so Haque said that safety concerns and any potential fears about animals escaping are unfounded. He envisions his sanctuary as becoming a major tourist attraction which will help Fair Bluff recover after being devastated from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. 

Grant will help ATMC bring high-speed internet to Beaverdam

By: Justin Smith, The News Reporter

ATMC has received a $1 million state grant to extend high-speed internet to 750 residents in the Beaverdam area, the utility announced Wednesday.

The funds are from the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program, which provides grants to internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives to expand high-speed internet service in the state’s 40 most economically distressed counties.

Twenty-one applicants in 19 counties will receive a total of nearly $10 million in GREAT Grant funding, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office announced.

“Access to reliable, high-speed internet service is critical for businesses to grow, students to learn, and communities to thrive,” Cooper said. “These grants will help connect thousands of homes and businesses with opportunities across the state and around the world.”

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GREAT applicants are scored based on the number of households, businesses and agricultural operations they propose to serve, the average cost to serve those households and the speeds offered. Applicants receive higher awards for agreeing to provide higher speed service, defined as a minimum of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

SCC career fair connects manufacturers and jobseekers

Bringing students and industrial employers together was the aim of an Advanced Manufacturing Job Fair at Southeastern Community College Thursday. 

“These companies are looking for workers with the right skills, and we have students who are getting those skills,” said SCC President Tony Clarke, explaining that most of the companies represented were focused on electrical engineering and mechatronics. 

Clarke said the career fair grew out of the college’s Columbus County Industry Group, which is made up of area manufacturers, some of which struggle to fill positions when they advertise job openings. 

The fair was organized by Vice President for Workforce and Community Development Beverlee Nance and Vice President for Student Services Sylvia Cox in addition to the faculty of the electrical engineering technology, mechatronic engineering technology and welding programs, Clarke said. 

Heather Lewis and Whitney Tyler of Atlantic Packaging in Tabor City were set up at the job fair and displayed some of the products the company manufactures. They explained that many students at the fair may be interested in working outside as a lineman, but Atlantic Packaging offers design, printing, structuring and machine running jobs that create packages from start to finish. 

“We also came to the high school fair back in November, and we had a lot of South Columbus students not know who we are or where we’re located,” Lewis said. “So we’re here to give more visibility to our potential workforce who want to stay in Columbus County and be near their families because we offer on-site job training.”

Lewis and Tyler explained that a lot has changed over the past 10 years and jobs are available at Atlantic Packaging, but the challenging part is letting people know they exist and finding employees wanting to work. 

“I think we’re having trouble finding people who are willing to work — to show up every day,” Tyler said. “Sometimes we get people who don’t want to stay and work the whole day, so we need people with motivation to work.”

Electrical engineering student Josh Snyder said he came back to school after leaving it for 10 years to work in the prison system. Now with a wife, kids and safety concerns, Snyder decided to return and finish his degree. He felt confident in finding work after graduating from SCC and felt like the job fair helped him decide what he wants to do. 

“Electricity is in almost everything, so I could work in almost anything,” Snyder said. “And here, they’re showing us how to do it all from the small circuits in cell phones to the large stuff in industrial factories.” 

With the recent merger of NCI Building Systems and Ply Gem Siding Group, Plant Manager Tony Rogowski in Fair Bluff said the newly formed Cornerstone Building Brands was now the largest manufacturer of exterior building products. Located on the southernmost area of Fair Bluff near the armory, the company was not affected by Hurricane Matthew or Florence floodwaters. He explained that the operation in Fair Bluff specializes in making fence and rail profiles. 

Plant Manager Tony Rogowski of Cornerstone Building Brands explains how his company in Fair Bluff operates to students at the Advanced Manufacturing Job Fair in the Nesmith Student Center at Southeastern Community College Thursday.

Plant Manager Tony Rogowski of Cornerstone Building Brands explains how his company in Fair Bluff operates to students at the Advanced Manufacturing Job Fair in the Nesmith Student Center at Southeastern Community College Thursday.


Rogowski said the former Ply Gem was the first company to partner with SCC’s internship program and has provided internships for three SCC students, one of whom has become a full-time employee.

“We’re looking for more people to join on the operations side, but we’ll never turn away a good maintenance associate because they don’t just come knocking on your door,” Rogowski said. “Yes, we are hiring.”

Derrick Bennett of West Fraser lumber company in Riegelwood said he was looking for anyone willing to work in maintenance, fire watch, and operate heavy equipment — basically anyone who wants to come in and learn from the ground up. He said that since the economy is good, it’s hard to attract employees with competitors picking from the same pool of jobseekers. 

“Bring that energy,” Bennett said. “Bring that talent and come in to replace us older guys who are getting ready to retire.”

Main Street visits Madison Street

Story by Les High, The News Reporter

Two officials from the state Main Street program showed slide after slide of successful downtown revitalization projects in other cities during a meeting of nearly 30 downtown business, property owners and city officials Wednesday evening.

Their message was clear: this could be you.

Sherry Adams of the North Carolina Department of Commerce North Carolina Main Street and Rural Planning Center said there is hope for downtown Whiteville, which received significant flooding damage from Hurricane Florence, just as downtown seemed poised for a comeback after Hurricane Matthew.

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Looking at progress in places like Hendersonville, Bessemer City, West Jefferson and Shelby, Adams said there is reason for optimism here.

“You might say we’ll never be like that, but you can, you can,” Adams said. 

Among the keys to those cities’ restorations, she said, was planning, partnerships and measuring success in phases.

Whiteville already has some advantages. It has been accepted as an associate member of the state’s Main Street program, with hopes of being fully vested in two years.

It is also on the cusp of having enough conforming structures to create a historic district, which would allow property owners who restore their buildings according to U.S. Department of Interior standards to receive a 40 percent tax credit on renovation costs.

Adams said one misconception about historic districts is that they impose design limits on all buildings in the district. That’s not true, she said; the standards are applied only to building owners who want the tax credits.

Sean Martin, the city’s new economic development director, told the group about Lexington, the hometown of his wife.

“When we started dating, they were just like us. Now, they’re thriving and bustling. We all want something like that here that will last.”

Martin said city council will consider implementing a façade incentive grant program to help building and business owners restore their storefronts.

“Historic districts really make a difference,” Adams said.

After the meeting, Adams and colleague Chuck Halsall, took the group on a walking tour of Madison Street. They asked participants to make mental notes about what they liked and didn’t like about downtown, and to consider potential wins, both big and small.

Starting at Vineland Station, Halsall pointed out weeds growing between the memorial brick pavers and in nearby plant beds.

“See these weeds?” he asked. “They matter.”

The group continued south, noting downtown’s pluses and minuses.

“Look at downtown as a blank canvas,” Martin told the group. “It has a lot of character.”

The tour concluded at Vineland Station, which was a dilapidated eyesore before a $1.2 million community-wide effort to restore the historic building in 2005.

“Everything you’ve seen tonight,” Adams said, “think what you want visitors to see and say about your town.”

Community Foundation gives $56,000 in disaster grants

The board of advisors of the Columbus County Community Foundation recently awarded $56,000 in recovery grants from the North Carolina Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund to support the longterm recovery from Hurricane Florence. Organizations receiving grants were: Community CPR, Columbus Baptist Association, Families First, Inc., Lake Waccamaw Food Ministry, Columbus County Arts Council, Men & Women United for Youth & Families, Columbus County Community Farmers Market and Whiteville Improvement Association.

“These grants are critical to the long-term recovery of Columbus County from Hurricane Florence,” said Becky High, CCCF advisory board president. “The North Carolina Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund is a pivotal resource to our community, thanks to the generosity of many donors who gave to help eastern North Carolina.”

NCCF is keenly aware of how deeply Hurricane Florence impacted eastern North Carolina and devastated many communities in our state, according to Jennifer Tolle Whiteside, CEO and president. “The North Carolina Community Foundation has been in these communities for more than 30 years and will continue to be there supporting disaster recovery long after the TV cameras are gone,” she said.

“We were grateful to see the outpouring of generosity that supported the NCCF Disaster Relief Fund and are honored to steward these funds to support longterm recovery efforts and meet unmet needs.” The CCCF is an affiliate of the North Carolina Community Foundation.

In addition to High, board members include: Henry Edmund (vice-president), Liz McLean (secretary), Andy Wayne (treasurer), Amber Bellamy, Bill Gore, Gary Kramer, Lisa Richey, Terray Suggs, Kevin Williamson, Adam Wooten and Richard Wright.

County Schools’ Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year named

By: Grant Merritt, The News Reporter

Georgia Spaulding, principal of Evergreen Elementary School, and Anna Slaughter, band teacher at Acme Delco Middle and Hallsboro Middle schools received the top honors.

Georgia Spaulding, principal of Evergreen Elementary School, and Anna Slaughter, band teacher at Acme Delco Middle and Hallsboro Middle schools received the top honors.

 Columbus County Schools honored 17 teachers and three principals at the Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year Banquet Tuesday evening at Vineland Station. Georgia Spaulding, principal of Evergreen Elementary School, and Anna Slaughter, band teacher at Acme Delco Middle and Hallsboro Middle schools received the top honors.

Teacher of the Year nominees. Front row (L-R): Antoinette Evans (CES); Shonna Gurkin (SCHS); Heather Register (NMS); Marlene Capps (CGES). Second row: Christina Holland (ECHS); Brittany Ward (ODES); Erica Jackson (EES); Jeff Brown (TCES); Leigh Ann McPherson (WTS). Third row: Robin Reaves (HAES); Marc Edge (WCHS); Marilyn Elliott (TCMS). Back row: Herman Bland (ADES); Anna Slaughter (ADMS); Jason Nance (HMS); Rod Gore (GES); Adrienne Evans (CCCA).

Teacher of the Year nominees. Front row (L-R): Antoinette Evans (CES); Shonna Gurkin (SCHS); Heather Register (NMS); Marlene Capps (CGES).
Second row: Christina Holland (ECHS); Brittany Ward (ODES); Erica Jackson (EES); Jeff Brown (TCES); Leigh Ann McPherson (WTS). Third row: Robin Reaves (HAES); Marc Edge (WCHS); Marilyn Elliott (TCMS). Back row: Herman Bland (ADES); Anna Slaughter (ADMS); Jason Nance (HMS); Rod Gore (GES); Adrienne Evans (CCCA).

“What you have here is a sample of some of the best school administrators in the state of North Carolina,” said interim Superintendent Jonathan Williams as the principals made their way to the front of the room. “And I really say that with sincerity because I really mean that. These are wonderful people.”

He was equally complimentary of the teachers in the room. 

“Once again, we’ve got a fine group of educators in our school system,” Williams said as the teacher nominees stood at the front. “When you go to their classrooms, you can tell that these teachers want to be there, and you would certainly want your child in their class.”

“You all have been wonderful,” Spaulding said to her colleagues gathered for the banquet. “I’ve worked with some awesome educators, and I try to remember that we do it for the children.”

Spaulding said that principals don’t do their job for the recognition. They do it for the love of the children, she explained. 

Slaughter, who is early in her career, said she was shocked to receive the award. 

“This is the last thing I ever expected,” she said. “Goodness gracious, I’m a fourth year teacher.” 

Slaughter wanted to thank everyone for their support and especially her students. 

“Just like Ms. Spaulding said, we’re here for the kids,” Slaughter said during her acceptance speech. “And Mr. Kelly Jones, you have kept me here, and you have kept me sane more times than I can count,” Spaulding added, referring to the district’s arts coordinator. 

Principals and teachers nominated their peers for the awards, and an outside selection committee picked the winners. The committee included Ashley Hinson of Sandhills Regional Education Consortium, Donyell Roseboro of UNC Wilmington and Bess Shuler of Richmond County Schools. Roseboro was the only judge able to attend the banquet. 

“You all are so talented and amazing, and it was an honor to read your work,” Roseboro said. “To see what all of you are doing with our young people, you inspire us.”

Principal of the Year nominees. From L-R: Wendell Duncan of Nakina Middle, Georgia Spaulding of Evergreen Elementary and Terry Brown of Tabor City Elementary.

Principal of the Year nominees. From L-R: Wendell Duncan of Nakina Middle, Georgia Spaulding of Evergreen Elementary and Terry Brown of Tabor City Elementary.

Principal of the Year nominees were Wendell Duncan of Nakina Middle School and Terry Brown of Tabor City Elementary School. Teacher of the Year nominees were Herman Bland of Acme Delco Elementary School, Marlene Capps of Cerro Gordo Elementary School, Antoinette Evans of Chadbourn Elementary School, Adrienne Evans of Columbus Career and College Academy, Christina Holland of East Columbus High School, Erika Jackson of Evergreen Elementary School, Rod Gore of Guideway Elementary School, Robin Reaves of Hallsboro-Artesia Elementary School, Jason Nance of Hallsboro Middle School, Heather Register of Nakina Middle School, Brittany Ward of Old Dock Elementary School, Shonna Gurkin of South Columbus High School, Jeff Brown of Tabor City Elementary School, Marylin Elliot of Tabor City Middle School, Marc Edge of West Columbus High School and Leigh Ann McPherson of Williams Township School.

Chef Sherman Axelburg and her culinary students of Columbus Career and College Academy provided the meal at the banquet.   

Award sponsors were 2 Broke Teachers, BB&T, Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation, Collier’s Jewelers Inc., Columbus County Schools, DD Cox Agency, Dales Seafood of Whiteville, First Bank, First Citizens Bank Fuller Royal Photography, Pizza Village and Yam City Oil.  

Fair Bluff Town Hall open house is Saturday, March 30

An open house in the newly-expanded Fair Bluff Town Hall/Police Department will be held Saturday, March 30 from 2-4 p.m.

The newly-expanded Fair Bluff Town Hall/Police Department.

The newly-expanded Fair Bluff Town Hall/Police Department.

The town had been operating out of the former BB&T building since its previous town hall was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew more than two years ago, and a combination of state grants enabled a large expansion of the building.

While the former bank space has served as both the town hall and police department, the new expansion permits both town administrative functions and police department operations to operate more efficiently and in a less cramped manner. Officials expect the new facilities to be much more convenient for the public and more service-oriented than the previous quarters.

The Lumber River Visitors’ Center, also destroyed in Hurricane Matthew, now will operate in the older portion of the building that previously had been home to the bank.

New deal guarantees qualified SCC grads admission to UNCW

By: Diana Matthews, The News Reporter

Educators in Columbus County and in Wilmington say they are “very excited” about a new agreement that will guarantee university admission to qualified community college graduates.

Southeastern Community College President Tony Clarke signed an articulation agreement Monday with Jose Sartarelli, chancellor of UNC-Wilmington. The “Pathway to Excellence” program will allow SCC students to earn their first two years of credits toward a four-year degree locally, then move into the junior class at UNCW. 

Of the 4,500 to 5,000 students admitted to UNCW every year, about 1,500 are transfer students from community colleges.

“I would like to increase the number of transfer students from SCC coming to UNCW,” said Sartarelli. Seven SCC graduates are studying on the Wilmington campus this school year, “and I would like to double or triple that.” The UNCW chancellor has been negotiating the arrangements with SCC’s vice president of academic affairs, Michael Ayers.

UNCW offers outstanding programs in marine science, chemistry, business and creative writing, said Sartarelli. “We currently have the largest nursing program in the state,” and U.S. News and World Reportranked it eighth-best in the country, he said. 

A new major, coastal engineering, will combine civil engineering, marine science and environmental science beginning this fall, Sartarelli said. Rather than going “to Raleigh and pay high prices for things,” he said, students “can go to Wilmington and pay a lot less and have the beach nearby, too.”

UNCW students achieve the third best graduation rate in North Carolina’s public university system, behind UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, with 73 percent of those who enroll finishing their bachelor’s degrees within six years and 58 percent finishing in four years.

Tony Clarke, left, and Jose Sartarelli shake on a just-signed agreement between Southeastern Community College and UNC-Wilmington that will benefit students wanting to obtain a four-year degree.

Tony Clarke, left, and Jose Sartarelli shake on a just-signed agreement between Southeastern Community College and UNC-Wilmington that will benefit students wanting to obtain a four-year degree.


The average SAT score of a UNCW student is 1,251, Sartarelli said, and honors program participants average 1,383. 

To take advantage of the open door at UNCW, SCC students must earn an Associate of Science or Associate of Arts degree with a grade point average of 2.5 or higher. They will move into junior-year level classes alongside students who have been at UNCW for two years. Their GPA will start over being calculated from that point on toward graduation.

Previously, students applied to UNCW without a guarantee of admission, SCC director of marketing and outreach Liz McLean said. This articulation agreement guarantees admission to associate degree earners with the required average.

Pathway to Excellence differs from the Brave-Step agreement established with UNC-Pembroke in November, said McLean. Classes taken at SCC under the BraveStep program will count toward a bachelor’s degree from UNCP without a transfer process, and students enrolled in it will have both SCC and UNCP ID cards. 

Students will not be enrolled simultaneously at SCC and UNCW with Pathway to Excellence.

Financial aid

On the occasion of the November signing, both SCC and UNCP presidents stressed that taking two years of classes at the local community college is a cost savings and also helps students who aren’t sure they are ready to go to a university directly from high school.

Clarke pointed out in his remarks Monday that the new pathway with UNCW will not recruit students away from SCC. “Significantly, this agreement also supports students completing their associate of arts/associate of science degree. We all know that we have great students. A lot of different universities want our students. But not all universities say, ‘Finish your associate of arts/associate of science degree, then come to us.’ And that’s an important distinction,” he said, because if a student cannot complete the bachelor’s degree due to some adverse events, they have an important credential already.  

Sartarelli said UNCW also has about $350,000 in scholarship money available for community college students transferring into the university. “I’d like SCC to be part of that,” he said. Clarke said he and his colleagues will make sure to encourage SCC students to apply for the aid.