02/05/04 — Top industrialist

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Top industrialist

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 5, 2004 2:02 PM

WARSAW -- Dan Blackshear, president of Carolina Turkey Co., is the 2003 Industrialist of the Year.

The Duplin County Economic Development Commission honored Blackshear with the award Wednesday during the 17th Annual Industry Appreciation Luncheon at the Country Squire. Retired Tourism Director Sonny Sikes received the Ambassador Award.

Duplin County's unemployment rate in 2003 dropped from 7.7 percent to 6.1 percent, "because of the great employers we have," said Woody Brinson, executive director of the Duplin County Economic Development Commission.

Despite plant closings and layoffs, he said, Duplin County had 582 more people working than it had a year earlier. And Carolina Turkey Co. is one of the county's major employers..

Since Blackshear came to Duplin County in 1994 as its president, the company's profitability has come from a break-even point in 1995 to 7.5 percent return on sales in 2002, said Brinson.

Carolina Turkey is a leader in the industry, he said. It's a leader in food safety and employee safety.

The turnover rate 10 years ago was 130 percent a year. Now, it's only 30 percent, "which is fantastic for the food industry," Brinson said.

Under Blackshear's leadership, Carolina Turkey started an export program to Cuba in 2003 and has "given fabulous support to the Hispanic and Latino community," said Brinson.

Ambassador Award

It was a rough year in 2003 for the EDC, said Brinson. Two members died, Harry Carlton and former Congressman David Henderson.

The office at the airport also lost Sonny Sikes to retirement, and the secretary transferred to the county marketing office in Kenansville.

The Ambassador Award isn't given out every year, said Brinson. Sikes, who retired at the end of September, received the EDC's fourth ambassador plaque, on Wednesday.

Brinson said Sikes "has helped put Duplin County on the map. He's promoted Duplin County all his life. He's known statewide for his love and devotion to Duplin County."

Education improvement

The keynote speaker for the EDC celebration was Phil Kirk, who has been president of the N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry for 14 years and served as the chairman of the state Board of Education.

Public schools in North Carolina are among the most improved among the states, he said. "We're leading in reading and math on the fourth- and eighth-grade national tests," he said.

But North Carolina ranks 38th in the nation in friendliness to small businesses. "Our personal income tax is the highest in the South," he said. "Our corporate income tax is the third highest in the U.S."

And the U.S. isn't doing a lot better, he said. Foreign manufacturers are able to produce quality goods at a lower cost than in the U.S., he said. Kirk blames regulations and excessive legal costs, taxes, health care costs, environmental rules.

North Carolina is improving in the employment arena, and the unemployment rate has started to drop, he said. North Carolina is the sixth most-visited state in the nation, according to reports from the state travel and tourism department. Consumer confidence is improving. Energy prices are expected to fall slightly.

It's a time when the state needs "strong leadership, positive attitudes, leaders who see solutions and opportunities."