04/02/08 — Chamber: More to come on county issues

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Chamber: More to come on county issues

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 2, 2008 1:47 PM

Despite complaints by some of the attendees that last week's 2008 State of the Community program was simply a "feel-good" event, Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Geoff Hulse thinks it was a good way to kick off a long-term discussion about how to improve the community.

"The point of it was to give an overview of the community," he said. "We were just trying to start the conversation by showing what's going on in the community from the public sector's viewpoint."

At issue is the response of two Mount Olive College associate professors -- who, Tillman School of Business Dean, Dr. Kenneth Stokes emphasized, were speaking only for themselves -- who attended the event and expressed disappointment at what they saw as its lack of depth and substance.

"I think this is all good," Mount Olive College associate professor of agribusiness Peter Appleton said about the presentation. "But the next step is where do we go from here?"

The program included 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 of whom spent his or her allotted time briefly explaining recent accomplishments and future goals.

And for many, that meant presenting information that had already been largely disseminated in other meetings to many of the same county and city employees and elected officials, such as the county's long-term capital plans, the desire of the community college and public school system to work toward more vocational education, the city's recent activities downtown and the hospital's efforts to expand its services to county residents.

The question of "where do we go from here," Hulse explained, was not necessarily meant to be answered in this first session.

"There are a number of things going on and that was not everything we've done and everything we're going to do," he said.

The plan is for last week's event to be only the first in a series of in-depth looks at different areas of the county, including education, health care, and workforce development.

And in those future programs, Hulse believes there might be opportunity for more discussion, rather than just lecture. Last week, because of time constraints with the early morning meeting, there was not time for questions and answers.

The ultimate goal, though, he said, is to "get together and discuss what the problems are."

And by doing that, they would be getting to the root of Mount Olive College's Tillman School of Business associate professor of economics Paul Cwik's concern that "the speakers ... should have been the ones listening."

"If somebody identifies a problem in the community and they think it's something the chamber can help with, I'm available to help," Hulse said. "I love Wayne County, and I don't want to settle for what we've got. I want to make it better."

And, he continued, by evaluating how this first program went and looking at issues of time and cost -- 8 a.m. with a $10 registration fee -- they hope to improve content and turnout in the future.

"It may be more of a forum next time. And I'd like to see more people there," he said. "I want us to be open for discussion."

But he emphasized again that he believes it was important for the organization to first lay down a baseline for where things stand before delving too deeply into any one or two issues.

"In any beginning of the year -- and I know we're already three months in -- yeah, you want to toot your own horn a little bit," he said. "But the whole purpose was not to say 'here's what we've done, see you in 2009,' it's an ongoing process."