03/27/08 — State of Wayne presented by chamber

View Archive

State of Wayne presented by chamber

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 27, 2008 1:57 PM

Listening to the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce's 2008 State of the Community program Wednesday morning, Peter Appleton found himself feeling slightly disappointed.

"I think this is all good," the Mount Olive College associate professor of agribusiness said about the presentation. "But the next step is where do we go from here. There's a lot of really good stuff happening here, but is it enough to keep (young people) here?

"My two teenagers, they're not excited about staying in Wayne County. There's nothing bad about it. They like it. But they're not excited enough about it to say, 'Man, I want to stay here and set the world on fire.'"

"So what are we missing?"

It's a question, he explained, that's going to have to be answered if the state of Wayne County is to really improve.

But, he added, those answers aren't going to be found during a presentation like was held Wednesday morning.

"Who the speakers were, should have been the ones listening," said Paul Cwik, associate professor of economics at the Tillman School of Business at Mount Olive College. "If you look at the people there.... The joke was that half of them were elected officials and the other half wanted to be. What's does that tell you? Where are the businessmen? I didn't hear them talk about economic development. You need a business perspective."

Instead, the program consisted of six speakers -- Wayne County Manager Lee Smith, Goldsboro Mayor Al King, Wayne County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor, Wayne Community College President Dr. Kay Albertson, Wayne Memorial Hospital Vice President of Operation Tom Bradshaw and 4th Fighter Wing Vice Commander Col. Dan DeBree -- each giving a brief overview of their area of the community.

Smith started by taking those in attendance -- mostly elected officials, local civil servants and a smattering of concerned citizens -- through the county's current and future projects, including the animal shelter, the first phase of school facility improvements and the need for road, water and sewer infrastructure improvements, as well as its new workforce development program, fund balance status and farmland preservation efforts. He also touched on the success of the Wayne County Development Alliance in 2007, with 205 new jobs created, another 415 new jobs announced, and approximately $35 million promised in capital investment.

DeBree gave a brief overview of what's going on at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, including the current deployments, which should have most of the troops returning home in May. He also touched on the 916th Air Refueling Wing's new active duty squadron that will be standing up in April, as well as a new Red Horse Squadron -- a highly mobile civil engineering squadron -- that will be arriving around September. Other topics included the state of the base's F-15E force, which despite being largely built between 1989 and 1990, are scheduled to be in operation until 2038.

Mrs. Albertson and Taylor, both of whom discussed the challenges facing education in Wayne County, from online distance learning needs at the community college level, to the dropout rate and standardized testing at the public school level. Other concerns included future capital funding, the challenges that come with a diverse population -- 21 different languages spoken in the public schools -- and the need for more instructors.

But for both, perhaps the biggest concern heading into the future is their ability to offer vocational and technical training programs -- and getting people and students interested in those.

"We see ourselves as a very important component in the economic development of Wayne County," Mrs. Albertson said.

Bradshaw described the hospital's recent improvements, including a $30 million power plant and a new wound center, as well as it's future projects, including an ambulatory surgery center and a new emergency department. He also touched on the hospital's efforts to recruit a new vascular and thoracic surgeon and a new plastic surgeon.

Mayor King discussed the Goldsboro Downtown Master Plan and the progress being made with the opening of the Paramount Theatre, the newly renovated City Hall and the work on the Union Station rail depot. He also promised good things to come with the Community Center project and the Stoney Creek Park Alliance.

But, Cwik countered, while "these things are nice," "they don't create growth."

And to him and Appleton, that is what these kinds of discussions need to be about -- the sort of growth Wayne County wants, what it has in place to create that and what else needs to be done to foster it. The problem, Cwik continued, is that there just doesn't seem to be a consensus on what direction the county wants to go.

"They're all promoting their own agendas," he said. "Today was a feel-good day and it's nice to have some of those," Appleton agreed. "But we need to be talking about the future."