Ground broken at SCC for new technology training center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$10.6 million state grant headed to the county schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCC Rams can be UNCP Braves at the same time

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Allen Turner, The News Reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masonry student wins national contest

By Diana Matthews

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whiteville City Schools posts higher graduation rate

By Diana Matthews, The News Reporter

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Businesses benefit from hurricane grants

By Diana Matthews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCCA student in national construction competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Educators pledge transparency with sales tax funds

By Diana Matthews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The transparency resolution was a proposal by the county commissioners. 

Burr, Acosta and Tillis visit downtown Whiteville

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

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

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

BB&T to consolidate local operations into new $20 million building along J.K. Powell Blvd.

BB&T announced Tuesday it will consolidate its Whiteville-area operations into a new $20 million facility that will be built at the intersection of J.K. Powell Blvd. and Columbus Street in Whiteville.


BB&T announced Tuesday it will consolidate its Whiteville-area operations into a new $20 million facility that will be built at the intersection of J.K. Powell Blvd. and Columbus Street in Whiteville.

The 100,000-square-foot building will house the 500 BB&T employees who currently work in nine locations in the Whiteville area, including its Client Care Center on U.S. 701 N.

Phil Marion, BB&T southeastern Regional president, speaks at a press conference in Whiteville Tuesday. Staff photo by Les High

Phil Marion, BB&T southeastern Regional president, speaks at a press conference in Whiteville Tuesday. Staff photo by Les High

“We’re going to combine all of our facilities that we have here into this one amazing center, so our headquarters, our care centers will all come [together as] one family working here to serve our clients,” said Donta Wilson, BB&T chief client experience officer, at a press conference on the Kramer Soccer Field.

The soccer field, as well as an adjacent flea market and former bowling alley will be the site for the new L-shaped building, which will front J.K. Powell Blvd. and Columbus Street. The property is owned by Gary and Robin Kramer.

The bank expects to begin site work on the project during the first quarter of 2019 with an opening date yet to be determined.

“We made a commitment years ago that we wanted to make Whiteville a home for BB&T in a significant way, and we’ve done that,” said Phil Marion, BB&T southeastern Regional president. “And this [announcement] is very symbolic of that continued commitment. To me, this should be looked at as very positive news not only for Whiteville, but Columbus County, southeastern North Carolina and the state of North Carolina.”

Marion said decisions haven’t been finalized about the future of the bank’s current facilities in Whiteville.

“We will sort that out in the future,” he said when asked specifically about the multi-story glass headquarters on Columbus Street. “Today we don’t have plans for that, but we will continue to evaluate it and we’ll make that decision in due time.”

During the press conference, the bank presented a $1 million ceremonial check to Southeastern Community College President Tony Clarke and representatives from the community colleges in Bladen, Robeson and Sampson counties. The four colleges will share the funds to “train and prepare students to be workforce ready, potentially for BB&T’s Client Care Center, and other businesses requiring these skills,” a BB&T press release stated.

In an interview after the press conference, Marion suggested the training could help attract new employers that would utilize BB&T’s existing facilities.

“We’re trying to help these community colleges create a technology curriculum to help not only BB&T for its needs but other companies that would choose to relocate here,” he said. “These are magnificent facilities. You have BB&T, the eighth largest [bank] in America building a state-of-the art facility. You have city hall, who chose to go on the other side of our existing campus. So, I see a bright future for Whiteville and what we’re doing here.”

Public to weigh in on incentives for $22 million bio-gas plant

By Allen Turner

The public will have a chance to weigh in on proposed county incentives for a $22 million bio-mass plant near Clarendon that would create 15-19 full-time jobs. 

The proposed Green Energy Sustainable Solutions (GESS) plant would convert hog waste, as well as silage from county farm row crops, into natural gas that would be sold to Duke Energy and possibly other power companies. In addition to the plant occupying 10 acres of farmland, another five acres will be utilized for storage of bio-mass materials.

Columbus County commissioners Monday night scheduled a public hearing to get feedback on $631,376 in proposed economic development incentives that would be paid to GESS over five years. The company would pay $825,530 in property taxes during that same period, according to estimates by Economic Developer Gary Lanier. GESS would have to pay its property taxes before receiving the incentive grant each year. 

The public hearing will be held Monday, Nov. 5, at 6:30 p.m. 

Shaun Lee, director of field operations for GESS, told commissioners in June that his company wants to build the plant on about 10 acres of the 450-acre Double B Farms at 6022 Old Stake Road. 

The plant in Clarendon would use waste from the 18,000 hogs at Double B Farms, as well as potentially waste from other hog farms in the county. It would purchase row crops such as corn silage, wheat, oats and straw from other farms in the county for use in its green energy process. GESS might also purchase chicken manure from poultry farmers.

While the company has 160 plants worldwide and already operates a different sort of bio-gas plant in North Carolina, the facility in Columbus County would be the first of its kind in the state and Lee did not rule out the possible establishment of other such plants in Columbus County in the future.

Lee said in June that when the plant is operational, it will employ four to six full-time employees making $15 to $25 an hour and an additional 15-20 jobs will be created by trucking contractors serving the plant. 

“The jobs will be permanent jobs,” he said. “The people working will be long-term, 20-year or longer, employees.”

The plant will have an annual revenue stream of $14-15 million, Lee said.

“The benefit is not only that we’ll be providing clean energy in the form of bio-gas to the power company, but also that we will be working with row crop farmers to buy their products, such as corn silage, wheat, oats and straw,” Lee said.

Lee said that the plant would use about 6,000 acres of row crops from local farmers annually, including 3,500-4,000 acres of corn. The crops would be purchased at premium prices under contracts of up to 20 years in length.

“The farmer will be maximizing their agricultural land, not only for one crop, but for three crops that put nutrients back into the land,” Lee said. “We’re working with N.C. State University to make sure we’re producing the proper nutrients from the plant, and then those nutrients will be put back into the soil at the proper levels.”

Although Double B Farms generates enough hog manure to supply the plant, Lee said in June that a feasibility study would also be done to determine whether materials can also be trucked in. 

“Double B Farms has enough hog manure to sustain the size of plant we’re looking at,” he said, “but if we bring in more manure from outside, it would be in sealed containers.”

He mentioned possibly trucking in chicken waste in that June meeting, prompting Commissioner Charles McDowell to voice concerns about possible odors, not only from the plant itself but also from trucks transporting chicken manure. 

“The digesters and the concrete tanks are sealed. The trucks that would bring it in are sealed, too, so you won’t get any smells,” Lee said. “Any chicken manure would be capped in and sealed with minimal ventilation and any materials would be covered. The farm would meet all air and water quality standards.”

Another benefit, the company says, is that the plant will take hog manure out of lagoons and process it for fertilizer and process the resulting methane gas into clean gas to be purchased by energy companies. The gas will be deposited into a gas pipeline to produce clean electricity. 

“By reducing the waste in hog lagoons, it will almost dry up the lagoons except for rainwater,” Lee said. “It will reduce smell and odor and stop any harmful materials from getting into the water table.”

There’s no firm timetable for when the plant will be in production. Duke Energy will be required by law to start buying gas produced by the plant no later than 2021. In the meantime, the company will work with county planners and state air and water quality personnel to make sure all zoning, land use and environmental regulations are satisfied. 

Commissioner Buddy Byrd said in June that the plant could benefit farmers from throughout the county. 

“The company can contract with area farmers to buy corn as it is harvested in July, and then the farmer can contract with them to plant sorghum as a second crop to harvest in October or November, and then put it back in wheat, and the farmer will get to keep the wheat seed,” Byrd said. Lee replied, “That’s right. We just want the straw from the wheat.”

Almost $15 million in state construction grants for schools

by Diana Matthews

Both local school systems will have millions of dollars in additional construction money, thanks to a Needs Based Grant from the state Department of Public Instruction.

The Columbus County School system has been awarded $10.6 million, and the Whiteville City Schools system has been awarded $4.3 million. State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the grants this evening. Statewide, 13 school systems shared a total of $141 million this year. The funds are marked specifically for construction of school buildings in economically distressed areas. Last year’s Needs Based Grants totaled $30 million.

Rebecca Owens' kindergarten class enjoys a sunny day on the playground at Whiteville Primary School

Rebecca Owens' kindergarten class enjoys a sunny day on the playground at Whiteville Primary School

“We are extremely grateful,” said Columbus County Schools Interim Superintendent Jonathan Williams. “We’re excited about the potential things this grant will enable us to do.

“With the money we (already) have to plan new construction, things were tight,” Williams said. The schools will continue to make frugal decisions so that “this money is going to go a long way,” he said, but “it will enable us to do things we want to do.”

Whiteville City Schools superintendent Kenny Garland broke the news to principals and audience members attending the Whiteville Board of Education’s monthly meeting only about an hour after receiving confirmation of the award from Johnson. Of the 13 systems obtaining grant money, Garland said, Whiteville City Schools is the only city system.

The announcement came at the end of a presentation by architect Paul Boney and two of his associates at the LS3P firm, in which they outlined details and costs of the Whiteville High School construction project that is soon to be advertised for bidding.

Garland agreed with board members that it would be appropriate to send letters to the Department of Public Instruction and to the General Assembly, thanking them for the support. He also commented that $4.3 million will not cover the WHS project, and “we have needs at the other schools,” so he hoped voters would approve the quarter-cent sales tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot for continued renovations and maintenance.

Corman gets $600,000 grant to re-establish rail service at industrial park

R.J. Corman Railroad will receive a $600,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) to re-establish rail service to the Southeast Regional Industrial Park between Whiteville and Chadbourn, including service to the former Georgia-Pacific plant site that is now owned by Corman.

Corman is one of 14 short line railroads in the state receiving a total of $7 million in matching grand funds as part of the DOT’s short line improvement program.

“We look forward to seeing the positive impact these grant funds have on North Carolina’s short line rail infrastructure, which plays a key role in our economy,” said Julie White, DOT deputy secretary for multimodal transportation. “These improvements not only spur economic development, but also enhance the safety and reliability of rail operations across the state.”

The short line improvement program supports short line rail infrastructure health and performance throughout the state and enables DOT to partner with short line rail companies on rail improvement projects. This partnership helps the short lines meet customer needs in an efficient and cost-effective manner while also preparing them for growing service demands and partnerships with potential customers, according to a DOT news release.

Samantha Alsup is new county planning director

Following a recent decision by the Columbus County commissioners to split the operations of the Economic Development and Planning departments into two separate offices, newly-appointed County Planner Samantha Alsup is preparing to move sometime in the next two weeks from her current office in the county Administration Building on Washington Street to the Miller Building on Jefferson Street.

Samantha Alsup, Columbus County Planning Director

Samantha Alsup, Columbus County Planning Director

Commissioners decided to return to separate departments after implementation of the county’s zoning ordinance in 2014 made it apparent over time that planning operations had become much more technical and time-consuming.

Economic Developer Gary Lanier had agreed to take on the additional role of planning director several years ago, but the role has become more complex. 

Also making sense to them was the appointment of Lanier’s administrative assistant, Alsup, as the new planning director. While most county and city planners in North Carolina hold degrees in planning, Alsup’s background as an attorney will aid her in implementing complex zoning regulations in the county.

“Planning is a very technical field. I am confident that, with her legal background, Samantha Alsup will do a great job as planning director,” said County Manager Mike Stephens.

Lanier, who will now focus exclusively on economic development, was equally supportive of the change. “Samantha has played a key role in handling a multitude of tasks related to the planning department since she joined the county staff almost four years ago,” Lanier said. “As a licensed attorney, she has the ability to interpret and apply planning and zoning statutes in support of our efforts to make Columbus County an even better place to live and work. Her experience and expertise have been, and will continue to be, invaluable.”

Lanier said Alsup’s contributions included helping county residents deal with FEMA following Hurricane Matthew, handing special use permit applications and complaints from citizens about abandoned structures and abandoned vehicles. 

“She’s done all of this while supporting our economic development efforts and while getting the training needed from the School of Government to become a certified zoning officer,” Lanier said. “She is an outstanding asset to Columbus County in her new position and I wish her all the best as she takes on her new role as county planner.”

A native of Columbus County, Alsup grew up in Tabor City, the daughter of Vivian Orrell and the late Johnny B. Edwards. She and her husband, Keith, a banker, live at Lake Waccamaw with their two children. 

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in political science from UNC Chapel Hill, Alsup graduated from the Campbell University School of Law in 1991. She was employed by the local district attorney’s office for 18 years before opening a private legal practice, which she continued for three years before joining Lanier in the economic development/planning office.

She says she looks forward to working with the county planning board and county commissioners to create and fine-tune regulations for land uses within the county. She noted about 14 land uses are regulated by the county’s ordinance. Some have regulations required to obtain a special use permit, while others don’t. 

“For example, when the zoning ordinance was passed we didn’t have any regulations for solar farms, but now we have such regulations,” she said. “Right now we don’t have anything in place for electronic gaming regulations and we need to do that. Electronic gaming is in legal limbo right now, but if the appellate courts eventually say such operations are legal, we have to be ready with regulations on that issue.”

Zoning issues and changes can be technical and cumbersome, with public hearings required before the planning board and, at times before the quasi-judicial board of adjustments, as well as before the county commissioners. With each proceeding, proper legal advertising has to be placed, adjoining property owners have to be notified and input taken from the public. In many instances, education of citizens who might be affected by zoning decisions also is part of the job. 

Alsup believes that with her legal background, combined with specialized training in flood plain management (for which she’s also the county director), zoning, planning regulation and zoning certification from the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill, she is qualified for the challenges that lie ahead as the planning department enters its new phase.

Exactly when her office will move from the county Administration Building on Washington Street to the former offices of the Guardian Ad Litem program in the Miller Building on Jefferson Street is still undetermined, but it is expected to take place within the next two weeks. 

Take the Lake has 577 participants

The 10th Annual Take the Lake brought 577 participants to Lake Waccamaw this hot Labor Day weekend.

Bicycle events included the 16 mile personal endurance challenge around Lake Waccamaw and the 10K Family Bike.

Bicycle events included the 16 mile personal endurance challenge around Lake Waccamaw and the 10K Family Bike.

An estimated 200 people took to the roads and trails Saturday morning during the Walk/Run. Events began and ended at Elizabeth Brinkley Park on the north side of the lake.

A 16-mile circular route challenged some of the runners and walkers, while the family walk and run followed a 10-kilometer (6.5-mile) course from the park to the boat landing near the state park entrance and back.

It was the first time participants were able to cross over dry-shod from the state park’s Lake Shore Trail to Waccamaw Shores Rd. with the help of the new pedestrian bridge near the Lake Waccamaw dam.

The Sunday 14-mile paddle started at Dales Seafood at 8 a.m. with 35 participants. The 16-mile cycle and the 6.5 family bike ride followed in the afternoon.

The Swim began this morning with 14 participants. TTL X-Treme Challenge was still underway at midday with two four-man teams and two individuals competing. The X-Treme Challenge is the only competitive portion of the weekend and combines all four endurance challenges in one intense day.


Over 150 walk/run participants completed the Lake Waccamaw State Park section of the 16-mile route over the new pedestrian bridge at the dam.

Over 150 walk/run participants completed the Lake Waccamaw State Park section of the 16-mile route over the new pedestrian bridge at the dam.

35 paddlers including several stand-up paddleboarders made the 15-mile round trip around Lake Waccamaw.

35 paddlers including several stand-up paddleboarders made the 15-mile round trip around Lake Waccamaw.

Property changes hands for Fair Bluff big cat sanctuary

The former automobile dealership property in Fair Bluff that will be transformed into a wildlife sanctuary for big cats has officially changed hands and work is expected to begin soon on the site.

A deed giving Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue ownership of the former Fair Bluff Motors property was recorded earlier this month to give the nonprofit title to 56 acres. The land was donated by Capital Investments, whose principals are Willard Small, Carl Meares Jr. and David Small.

Shazir “Shizzy” Haque said that one of his longtime supporters, Alisha Brazeau, flew in from Canada for the closing of the real estate transaction. “Our goal is to get to opening day within two years,” Haque said, calling the projected timeframe very realistic.

Haque had high praise for Columbus County Economic Developer Gary Lanier, as well as for Rick Edwards and Les High of the Columbus Jobs Foundation for helping navigate the nonprofit through zoning and ordinance changes in Fair Bluff that had to occur before plans could start being put into action.

He said that the rescue intends to use local companies whenever possible to help stimulate economic growth. 

The facility, which will employ 7-10 workers, including two veterinarians, and utilize dozens of volunteers, will house big cats, such as lions, tigers and bears, as well as smaller species of wild cats and some birds.

The sanctuary cleared its last zoning hurdle in Fair Bluff in July after the town’s planning board approved the site plan. 

Construction will be in phases, each of which will require additional approval from the planning board. Phase 1 will include completion of separate habitats for big cats and smaller cats, completion of a food preparation area and development of parking and animal loading/unloading areas. Phase 2 will include additional big and lesser cat areas and the bird aviary along with a walking path.

The big cat habitats will be surrounded by 16’ high fences, while the habitats for smaller cats will be 10’ high. The bird aviary, which will include a dome-shaped roof, will feature a 15’ fence. In addition, the perimeter of the entire property will be surrounded a 10’ fence. Video cameras and drones will provide surveillance to protect both the community and the animals. The site will have two electrical generators in the event of power failures.

Ever since the concept of the sanctuary first rose, officials of the Fair Bluff government, the Columbus County Economic Development office and the Columbus Jobs Foundation have been hopeful it will be will be a launching point in revitalizing the town after devastation nearly two years ago from flooding associated with Hurricane Matthew.

“If we get people to come here, then they will want to spend money on other things as well,” Haque told the planning board in July. 

Safety will be a major priority in both the development and operation of the facility, Haque said. He has worked with two other similar facilities in his planning, neither of which has had an animal escape. He modeled his plans after their sites. He pledged to maintain close communications with the Fair Bluff Police Department and other public safety officials when the facility opens. 

In another development related to the property transfer, Fair Bluff Auto relocated last week from the former Ford dealership property that will house the sanctuary to 1080 Main Street, the Scott Properties property formerly known as the Scotsman. 

“We all knew this day was coming and our new location is ideal,” Fair Bluff Auto owner Jeff Prince said. “I was determined to keep my business operation in Fair Bluff, and this location gives us more flexibility with a comfortable lobby area, more office space and much better exposure, as we are now in the path of downtown traffic.” 

Lake Bridge officially opens for business

Although the Lake Waccamaw pedestrian bridge has been in use since July 4, it’s finally officially open for business.

State Park Superintendent Toby Hall, along with Dwayne Patterson of the Division of Environment, Health and Natural Resources and Hannah Cockburn of the Department of Transportation cut the ribbon on the $340,000 bridge Tuesday morning. A large crowd of park supporters and town residents turned out for the event.

Dwayne Patterson of DEHNR joins Toby Hall of the Lake Waccamaw State Park and Hannah Cockburn of the DOT to cut the ribbon on the Lake pedestrian bridge.

Dwayne Patterson of DEHNR joins Toby Hall of the Lake Waccamaw State Park and Hannah Cockburn of the DOT to cut the ribbon on the Lake pedestrian bridge.

The bridge was officially opened just in time for this weekend’s Take The Lake personal fitness challenge. Thousands of runners, bicyclists and spectators are expected to use the bridge to make a complete — and safe — 14 mile circuit of the lake. TTL crossed the dam as a crossing in its early years, before safety concerns forced participants to start making an awkward U-turn at the dam.