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.

Fallen leaders honored at Tabor City Committee of 100 annual meeting

By Deuce Niven, Tabor-Loris Tribune

Long-serving Tabor City Committee of 100 President Jimmy Garrell and former Secretary Linda Bell were honored posthumously during Tuesday’s annual meeting of the economic development group.

Garrell’s widow, Martha Jo Garrell, accepted the honor from Committee of 100 President Trent Burroughs. Jimmy Garrell died on June 10, 2018. Garrell’s service to the Committee of 100, which he chaired for most of its existence, was unparalleled, Burroughs said.

Tabor City Committee of 100 President Trent Burroughs with Martha Jo Garrell, wife of the late Jimmy Garrell, long-time chairman of the group

Tabor City Committee of 100 President Trent Burroughs with Martha Jo Garrell, wife of the late Jimmy Garrell, long-time chairman of the group


Bradley Bell accepted the honor for his mother, who died on Nov. 19, 2018. She served as secretary for two years, ending in 2017.

Linda Bell's son, Bradley

Linda Bell's son, Bradley


Attorney R.C. Soles Jr., who has been a member of the Committee of 100 since its inception, was awarded honorary lifetime membership to the organization.

The Tabor City Committee of 100 named former North Carolina senator and Committee of 100 supporter R.C. Soles Jr. as a lifetime member emeritus. Chairman Trent Burroughs is at right.

The Tabor City Committee of 100 named former North Carolina senator and Committee of 100 supporter R.C. Soles Jr. as a lifetime member emeritus. Chairman Trent Burroughs is at right.


Board members

Four vacancies on the committee board were filled during Tuesday’s meeting, including Bradley Bell of Bell Supply Co., Atlantic’s Lex Johnson, First Bank’s Jessica Harper Edwards, and Kevin Norris of Carolina Insurers.

Treasurer Rod Sanders said the committee’s finances remain strong, and that an ongoing membership drive has already met $16,000 of a $20,000 goal.

Rural Center

N.C. Rural Economic Development Center Patrick Woodie was the keynote speaker, offering a hopeful and perhaps painfully honest assessment of the prospects and challenges facing rural North Carolina, 80 of the state’s 100 counties.

Patrick Woodie, president of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center

Patrick Woodie, president of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center


Leadership, Woodie said, like that demonstrated by the Tabor City Committee of 100, “is the single thing that makes the greatest difference in those communities.”

The Rural Center, he said, offers a variety of programs and efforts designed to make a difference in those rural communities, including leadership development training, interpreting research and how data impacts rural communities, and partnerships with the Golden LEAF Foundation on economic prosperity zone efforts.

North Carolina has changed dramatically in the past decade, Woodie said. In 2010, the majority of the state’s residents were native born and lived in rural areas. Today about 42 percent of the state’s population was born here, and about the same number lives in rural areas.

Urban areas have grown while urban areas have declined in population in the past decade, Woodie said, though the rate of decline in rural North Carolina is slowing.

Important issues facing rural North Carolina, and championed by the Rural Center, Woodie said, include access to broadband and health insurance, and small business development.

North Carolina Farm Act of 2019 Positions NC as National Leader in Hemp Production

 North Carolina General Assembly

Senator Brent Jackson


Contact: Ben King

March 19, 2019

North Carolina Farm Act of 2019 Positions NC as National Leader in Hemp Production

Federal rule changes permit hemp expansion

NC Farm Act of 2019 establishes regulatory requirements to allow NC to expand hemp production immediately following federal approval

Raleigh, N.C. – Senator Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) today announced the NC Farm Act of 2019, which uses recent federal rule changes to establish a regulatory framework for expanded hemp production in North Carolina. Senator Jackson was joined by Senators Norm Sanderson (R-Pamlico), Todd Johnson (R-Union), Harry Brown (R-Onslow), Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell), Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), Tom McInnis (R-Richmond), and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

Senator Jackson said, “Now is the time to act to position North Carolina as a national leader in hemp production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is finalizing new regulations, and the Farm Act will allow our state to move forward immediately upon federal approval. This is a potential boom industry, and we need to be ready to compete.”

Commissioner Troxler said, “By passing the Farm Act, North Carolina will have the guidelines in place for a hemp program that is compliant with federal law, protects public health, and fosters growth in the state’s agriculture industry.”

Senator Sanderson said, “A large percent of what has for decades been North Carolina’s primary farm money crop has been lost through the reduction in tobacco growth. Because of its many uses, the hemp production industry has the potential to provide North Carolina farmers with an additional source of desperately needed income. It is the responsibility of the State to take the lead in the oversight of this newly growing industry. This Farm Bill starts that process.”

Senator Johnson said, “Thank you to Senator Jackson and Commissioner Troxler for their work to continue to strengthen North Carolina’s agriculture industry. This bill’s focus on setting our state up to be a leader in the emerging hemp market displays the type of foresight that has made us so successful.”

Larry Wooten, President of the N.C. Farm Bureau, said, “North Carolina Farm Bureau appreciates the legislature’s continued work to lessen the regulatory burden that all too often weighs down North Carolina’s farmers and agribusinesses. Agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry, but it is struggling because of, among other factors, bad weather, tough trade negotiations and low commodity prices. As with the previous six Farm Acts that have been enacted since 2013, this legislation is an important tool that will help North Carolina’s farmers remain competitive and continue to grow North Carolina’s number one economic driver.”

The federal government recently acted to bring laws governing hemp production in the United States in line with much of the world. Previously, Congress permitted only small-scale hemp pilot programs, which North Carolina adopted successfully. The 2018 Federal Farm Bill allows for wide-scale hemp production provided states adopt stringent licensing and enforcement standards.

Federal law requires hemp to contain less than 0.3 percent THC, which is a very small fraction of the THC contained in marijuana plants. The rules imposed by the 2018 federal farm bill require states to implement regulations to license hemp producers and to closely monitor the THC levels in their product.

To comply with those requirements, The NC Farm Act of 2019 establishes the North Carolina Hemp Commission, sets forth qualifications for hemp production licensees (including prohibitions on licenses to individuals with past drug offenses), and defines civil and criminal penalties for producers who violate the law. The bill also requires a valid license to market and sell cannabinoid-related products, including CBD oil.

In addition to the hemp provisions, The NC Farm Act of 2019 also:

·      Makes changes to rules governing easements;

·      Establishes that operators of farm equipment have the right-of-way if cars attempt to pass on the left;

·      Increases the maximum size of outdoor farm advertisements near highways and expands the types of farms that can display the outdoor advertisements;

·      Continues existing regulations governing agricultural storage;

·      Adds hunting, fishing, and shooting sports to agritourism;

·      Brands N.C. Sweet Potatoes;

·      Makes various changes to activities permitted for Soil and Water District staff.

Columbus Jobs Foundation lays out goals for the coming year

By Justin Smith, The News Reporter

The Columbus Jobs Foundation (CJF), a non-profit organization that supports economic development in the county, laid out a vision for the year ahead during its fifth annual meeting Thursday night.

The successor to the former Columbus County Committee of 100, CJF operates the Southeast Regional Industrial Park and administers a revolving low-interest loan fund to support small business. As a non-profit, the organization serves as a conduit for grant funds, such as a recent grant from Duke Energy that will help extend a water line to the new Helena Chemical facility and the eastern part of the Southeast Park.

“We can do things that government can’t do,” said CJF President Les High, who is publisher of The News Reporter. “We’re called on to entertain clients, and we have found time and time again that even if we don’t land clients, that they’re very appreciative of what our business community does in terms of being hospitable and making them feel welcome.”

Les High, president of the Columbus Jobs Foundation, addresses members gathered Thursday for the organization's annual meet at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Whiteville_2.jpg

Les High, president of the Columbus Jobs Foundation, addresses members gathered Thursday for the organization's annual meet at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Whiteville_2.jpg


High shared the organization’s four goals for the upcoming year with the members assembled for the meeting at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Whiteville:

n Developing an entrepreneurial incubator that would provide workspace and resources to start-up businesses. Tom Hall, executive director of the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub at UNC Pembroke, delivered a presentation about the incubator he runs in downtown Pembroke and offered his assistance to the Columbus Jobs Foundation;

n Promoting housing development in the eastern and southern parts of the county to take advantage of growth from Wilmington and the Grand Strand;

n Creating a paved trail that would connect Waccamaw Shores Road and Lake Waccamaw State Park. The 10-foot-wide trail could accommodate triathlons and other fitness activities; and

n Developing a Lumber River State Park presence in downtown Fair Bluff, which was devastated by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

High said Rep. Brenden Jones will convene a meeting of the county’s legislative delegation to discuss how they can support the initiatives.

Although 2018 will be remembered as the year in which Hurricane Florence caused widespread devastation in Columbus County, High said it was a “remarkably good year” for economic and business development. He pointed to a long list of highlights, including: BB&T’s plans to build a new $20 million regional headquarters and service center in Whiteville, school construction projects in Tabor City, Cerro Gordo and Whiteville, a $26 million natural gas conversion plant expected to break ground next month in Clarendon and an Advanced Manufacturing Training Center under construction at Southeastern Community College. 

Other highlights include new town halls in Fair Bluff, Whiteville and Cerro Gordo, significant road infrastructure projects that will move U.S. 74 closer to becoming I-74, the growth of Tabor City auto parts distributor DMA holdings, and R.J. Corman Railroad’s efforts to secure a major rail prospect at the former Georgia-Pacific site. 

Additionally, High said Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue is moving forward in Fair Bluff, Malec Brothers plans to remain in Columbus County while opting not to apply for a methyl bromide permit, Cape Fearless Extreme has opened its ziplining attraction near Delco, Helena Chemical is constructing a new facility west of Whiteville, and Tabor City has secured an $800,000 federal grant to create a business incubator in a downtown storefront. 

High ended his comments by asking members to consider creative possibilities for the county.

“Don’t think I’m crazy, but I want to throw something out there that I think is going to be our future, and I think we have a bright future,” he said.

By the middle of the next decade, driverless cars are going to be a boon for areas like Columbus County, High said, because they will allow people to live in rural communities and effortlessly commute to jobs hours away and be productive during the drive.

“I don’t think the jobs are ever going to leave Raleigh, Wilmington and Myrtle Beach in a big way,” High said. “But what we offer is a great quality of life.”

He explained that continuing to make Columbus County a desirable place to live will be the key. 

“We have really begun to work on our infrastructure, but we have to keep it going. We have to keep pressure on for good roads, for good schools, to protect our environment — to do things like the path behind Lake Waccamaw — have good infrastructure like water and sewer, and strong downtowns.”

Tabor City receives grant for downtown business incubator

By: Deuce Niven, The Tabor City - Loris Tribune

Architects will be in Tabor City as early as next week to begin mapping out the future of the former Heilig-Meyers building downtown, now destined to become a business incubator fueled by an $800,000 US Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant announced last week.

 Town Manager Al Leonard, speaking at the annual banquet of the Greater Tabor City Chamber of Commerce last week, called the proposed incubator one of the top ten list of opportunities to address the “rural dilemma” challenging most of America’s small towns.

 Leonard spoke a day before the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the grant “to renovate a historic building for use as a business incubator that will support business growth in the region,” a news release said.

 “We commend Tabor City on their strategy to help support local entrepreneurs,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Affairs Dennis Alvord. “This project will strengthen the local economy by providing new and existing businesses with the tools they need to grow and thrive.”

Downtown Tabor City

Downtown Tabor City


 Economic opportunity

There is no available space left in Tabor City for new business opportunities, Leonard told the Chamber audience, a good problem that can be remedied by converting the long-vacant former retail space into a business incubator, where fledgling business and industry can take root and grow.

Tabor City’s first business incubator, located in the Tabor Industrial Park, is full, Leonard said. A variety of businesses are operating in every one of the former tobacco warehouses across town, and in other available industrial space.

A business incubator downtown is part of an ongoing and renewed focus on that area of Tabor City, Leonard said last week. 

Architects will be charged with assessing the buildings town government took possession of last year, Mayor Royce Harper said. A bank that had foreclosed on the property donated it to the town.

“The bank gave it to the town to keep it from code enforcement,” Harper said. “They were either going to have to fix it or tear it down.”

Industrial space and offices for the business incubator are expected to go on the first floor, Harper said. It’s possible that apartments could be constructed on the second floor, if architects and inspectors deem that feasible, the mayor said.

Inspections and assessments will be among the first steps, and should begin soon, Harper said.



                     Downtown Tabor City 



Hurricane relief

EDA officials, in a news release, said the business incubator in Tabor City “will help the region recover from damage caused by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, which caused significant business disruption and loss in 2016 and 2018 respectively. The new incubator will support local disaster resiliency efforts by helping new businesses grow and established businesses start over or expand.

“This project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Southeastern Economic Development Commission.

“EDA funds the Southeastern Economic Development Commission to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment and create jobs.”


Founded in 1913 in Greensboro, Heilig-Meyers went into bankruptcy in 2000, the Tabor City store one of the first 302 slated for closure at that time. Heilig-Meyers did not survive bankruptcy.

Tabor City’s store occupied four buildings on East 5th Street, opening in 1978


Whiteville Museum receives Duke Energy Foundation Grant

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville will continue to develop and implement educational opportunities for the public with a focus on science education thanks to a generous $35,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation.

 “STEM education is a critical focus area of the Duke Energy Foundation,” said John Elliott, Duke Energy’s director of government and community relations. “We’re proud to partner with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville to expand hands-on and STEM-focused learning opportunities for kids in southeastern North Carolina.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 4.41.52 PM.png

 “Duke Energy Foundation continues to be an important partner for STEM education in North Carolina,” said Charles Yelton, regional network chief for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. In 2015 the Whiteville museum was awarded a $40,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation, the largest donation the museum has received to date. The grant was instrumental in allowing the museum to transition from a facility focused on forestry to one focused on the natural sciences.  

“The Duke Energy Foundation is a real friend to the museum,” says Bill Thompson, President of the Friends of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville. “Their support in the past has allowed us to become a unique part of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Their very generous gift now will allow us to provide a much-needed early childhood education program here in Whiteville. We appreciate very much their continuing support of the museum.”   

Funding from this grant will go toward development of public and early childhood educational programs, special after school and citizen science projects to connect children of all ages to nature and increase science literacy throughout the community.

For more information, please call the museum at 910-914-4185 or e-mail

Columbus Jobs Foundation sets annual meeting Feb. 28

The Columbus Jobs Foundation, the volunteer arm of economic development in Columbus County, will hold its annual business meeting Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville at 6 p.m.

Current members and prospective members are encouraged to attend as the meeting also kicks off the non-profit organization’s membership drive. New officers and directors will be announced. Les High is currently chairman.

The Jobs Foundation has two major initiatives this year, to work on establishing a small business entrepreneur incubator, and to recruit builders to construct new housing developments. Thomas Hall, director of the UNC Pembroke Thomas Center for Entrepreneurship, will be the guest speaker.

To join, email Madison Ward at the Columbus County Economic Development Commission office at, or go to the organization’s website, There are number of membership levels, including one for millennials, those under 40, for only $75.

Plan creates roadmap for 450 new jobs over several years

By Allen Turner, The News Reporter

It’s still a work in progress, but a job creation plan for distressed communities in Columbus County is in development with help from the N.C. Department of Commerce’s N.C. Main Street and Rural Planning Center.

While the estimated cost to purchase and upgrade buildings would be $7-9 million, a successful outcome would be the creation of more than 450 jobs to the county over several years.

A 73-page partial draft of the plan has already been completed with proposed projects identified for Bolton, Chadbourn, the International Logistics Park in Delco, Fair Bluff, Tabor City and Whiteville, and data is still being gathered for Lake Waccamaw.

Preliminary hopes are high. Two existing companies from out of state want to locate and expand in Bolton and Chadbourn, providing 45 jobs initially and 200 jobs longer-term. A commercial kitchen/produce processing plant and possible call center in Fair Bluff could create 100-150 jobs. With Tabor City’s first business incubator being close to 100 percent occupancy, a second incubator is being planned there. Opportunities in Whiteville include the establishment of a 10-barrel microbrewery. The plan will also provide an economic evaluation of a 100,000-sq. ft. shell building proposed for International Logistics Park.

‘Time for Lake Waccamaw’ 

Plans for Lake Waccamaw are still under development. About 15 community leaders representing business and local government met earlier this month to develop a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis for the town.

The Feb. 5 meeting in Lake Waccamaw was an assessment of economic, cultural, institutional, community, natural and governmental assets in the town, and other such meetings are anticipated.

Retired Boys and Girls Homes President Bill Thompson was a participant in the Lake Waccamaw meeting, and he said the greatest strength for Lake Waccamaw is the possibility of expanding eco-tourism. 

“The lake is our biggest asset, of course,” Thompson said, “and we need to find a way to utilize it in a way that won’t at the same time diminish its attraction as an asset. That’s a tough, thin line, but we want to look at as many possibilities as we can.”

Weather — the effect of storms and the susceptibility of the lake to flooding — was identified as the biggest weakness, according to Thompson. He said the group identified the current general timeline as the biggest opportunity. 

“This is the time for Lake Waccamaw to act,” Thompson said. “We’ve been sort of dormant for many years.” The biggest threat is the same as the identified weakness: the weather. “No matter what we plan for, there’s not much we can do about the weather.”

Others participating in the meeting included Lake Waccamaw Town Manager Gordon Hargrove, former council member Nancy Sigmon, Mayor Daniel Hilburn and numerous people from the private sector. 

“These were people who’ve been involved with the town for a long time,” Thompson said. “Although a date is not set, we will meet again and look back at what we came up with generally at our first meeting and then try to decide on the best steps to go forward.”

When the Lake Waccamaw plans are more complete, they will be added to the countywide plan that will eventually be presented to Columbus County commissioners, according to Grace Lawrence, community economic development planner for the N.C. Department of Commerce.

That plan, when finalized, will demonstrate an “excellent job development opportunity for municipalities in Columbus County,” Lawrence said. It will provide an implementation timetable, as well as potential sources of funding. Documentation will be given to grantors, legislators and other potential funders/investors. 

“We hope this plan will be used as a model for other rural counties,” said Lawrence.

The following proposed projects have already been identified in the portion of the plan that is complete:


“Project Bling,” a small manufacturer of high-end tech jewelry is owned by a woman who lives in San Francisco but still considers Bolton as her hometown. Her retired grandmother would run the manufacturing operation in Bolton. No building currently is available and construction of a 5,000-6,000 sq. ft. incubator building must be considered. The company would bring 15 jobs initially and up to 50 jobs long term.


“Project Medical” is a medical coding business which currently operates out of state. Similar to the Bolton project, the owner is originally from the Chadbourn. The company would bring 35 initial jobs and 150 more jobs in the long term. A suitable building doesn’t exist, but there are several vacant properties owned by private citizens and by the Town of Chadbourn that could house the business with upfitting.


A $4 million, 100,000-sq. ft. shell building is proposed by an industrial developer for the International Logistics Park. The project would bring 25 jobs initially and 50 total over a longer period. Truck driver positions would start at $16 per hour and forklift operators would earn $12.14 an hour. This would be a joint Columbus County-Brunswick County project.

Fair Bluff

The plan identifies both a commercial kitchen/produce processing plant and a possible call center for Fair Bluff. Local growers have asked for a commercial kitchen/produce center to be able to sell to grocery chains and others. One of those local growers is already producing 120,000 pounds of tomatoes annually. Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification would be sought by the growers. If a building was divided and used as a combined produce processing plant and as a call center, 100-150 jobs could be created. There are two location under consideration: a new 15,000-sq. ft. building on donated property near the downtown area or renovation of the 50,000-sq. ft. former Umbro building that would be donated to either the county or the Columbus Jobs Foundation. However, that building needs a new roof, HVAC systems, lighting and re-paved parking areas.

Tabor City

A second business development center, or incubator, is being planned since the first one is nearly at capacity.


Opportunities include the establishment of a microbrewery, which would employ 10-15 people initially and would bring destination businesses to the downtown area.

Duke grant to aid Helena Chemical facility under construction in county

By Justin Smith, The News Reporter

A Helena Chemical facility under construction west of Whiteville will benefit from a grant that will also make the nearby Southeastern Regional Industrial Park more marketable, the county’s economic developer announced Tuesday.

A $20,000 grant from the Duke Energy Carolinas Investment Fund will help extend a water main along the eastern edge of the industrial park and will serve a new Helena Chemical facility under construction at the intersection of Georgia Pacific and Midway roads, said Columbus County Economic Development Director Gary Lanier. 

Helena Chemical decided to construct the new facility after its building on West Virgil Street outside Whiteville flooded during Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, according to Jim Martin, the company’s division manager. The Whiteville location provides crop protection chemicals, seeds and fertilizer for farmers in Columbus, Bladen and Robeson counties. The new facility will include a 12,000 square-foot warehouse, 2,000 square-foot office and a liquid fertilizer operation. Helena has seven local employees and hopes to add more as business expands, Martin said. 

Columbus County Economic Development Director Gary Lanier accepts a check from Donna Phillips of Duke Energy

Columbus County Economic Development Director Gary Lanier accepts a check from Donna Phillips of Duke Energy


Duke Energy awarded the grant to the Columbus Jobs Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports economic development initiatives. The funds will be used for engineering design and preliminary work. Columbus County commissioners voted in December to spend up to $75,500 in already budgeted economic development funds for design costs associated with the water line extension. Lanier said fewer county tax dollars will be required thanks to the grant.

“This will be a true win-win for the Columbus Jobs Foundation, Columbus County, and our partners at Duke Energy,” Lanier said. “Duke Energy is one of the best economic development partners we have, willing to do everything in their power to make a project happen.”

Lanier added that Duke Energy has been involved for more than 25 years with the 160-acre Southeast Regional Park.

“It is great to have a wonderful partner like Columbus County that aggressively plans and recruits business to create new jobs and investment for the county,” said Donna Phillips, economic development manager for Duke Energy. “We are pleased to be a part of the community’s growth and prosperity.” 

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.