03/19/04 — Chamber lists priorities

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Chamber lists priorities

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on March 19, 2004 2:05 PM

Legislators and business people from across eastern North Carolina have formed a unified front to define and discuss critical issues that affect the region.

These issues are military, transportation, education and economic development.

Steve Hicks, president of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, is a member of the Chambers of Commerce of North Carolina's Eastern Region, which was formed in 2002 and is composed of representatives from the 13-county region: Carteret, Craven, Duplin, Edgecombe, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, Onslow, Pamlico, Pitt, Wayne and Wilson.

A steering committee of the chambers developed a paper titled "Critical Issues for North Carolina's Eastern Region." Hicks presented it to his board of directors Thursday and it was endorsed. The goal is to have every chamber in the region endorse the paper before March 30, he said.

The paper emphasizes the importance of protecting and expanding the use of military installations, especially with the upcoming base closing study in 2005. The state's installations account for over 100,000 military and civilian employees, a payroll that exceeds $4 billion and an effect on local economies that exceeds $10 billion, it states.

The chambers favor a reduction of the state tax for gasoline purchased on base. The money the military saves would go toward community services that support military families and bases.

It also emphasizes maintaining a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., to protect and promote the state's military interests; helping personnel leaving the military make the transition to civilian jobs; and increasing the state's share of contractor and supply business with the military.

Regarding economic development, the chambers support the continued recruitment of industry to the region; development of incentives and funding sources for entrepreneurs; development of affordable health care plans for small businesses; and continued funding for the N.C. Global TransPark.

There is support for bypasses for U.S. 70 between Goldsboro and the coast, a four-lane N.C. Highway 43 between New Bern and Greenville, the completion of a U.S. 17 corridor, funding for a four-lane N.C. 11 and the enhancement of Interstate 95. The chambers also support passenger rail service in the region.

The paper also says the state should take a leading role in lobbying the federal government to adequately fund the "No Child Left Behind" Act, which requires that all students perform at a high level and that all teachers are "highly qualified."

The chambers also support financing to assist counties with funding for school construction, community colleges and other items regarding education.

Hicks said the paper is a work in progress, and the group will continue to explore the topics. The goal is to help strengthen the region as a whole, he added.