"You can count how many seeds are in an apple, but you can't count how many apples are in a seed."

That old saying is very appropriate when it comes to predicting the potential of the Maxwell Regional Agricultural and Convention Center, Rep. Jimmy Dixon said Thursday.

"There is no way we can count the long-range benefits of what this facility will do for agriculture going forward," he said. "It is innumerable."

More than 500 people gathered on the center's courtyard under rainy skies Thursday morning for the dedication and ribbon cutting for the facility that has been decades in the making.

Speaker after speaker, including Dixon, underscored how partnerships are what finally brought the long-awaited project to fruition.

Dixon, chairman of the state House Agriculture Committee, told the crowd that the seeds of efforts of past generations have fallen on productive ground.

"We commit to do our part to overcome the struggles of our day so that future generations may enjoy better days through better ways," he said. "May we dedicate ourselves to the noble cause of maintaining and improving our tried and improving agricultural practices which were born of calloused hands and dedicated hearts of some of the finest souls to ever live on this earth.

"We shall never forget that to remain a free nation we must maintain and improve our ability to feed and clothe ourselves. We must constantly remind our urban friends that food does not come from the grocery store."

The hopes and dreams of a lot of people have come to fruition with the opening of the center, Dixon said.

Dixon said it had been an honor and privilege for him to work with county commissioners, the city of Goldsboro, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Wayne Community College.

"It is one of the best collaborative efforts that I have seen across the state of North Carolina, and it could not be addressing a better subject than that of agriculture," he said.

Adding "regional" to the center's name was intentional, he said.

"We have got to come together as a region as our urban counties grow in population, we need our non-urban counties to grow also so that we don't lose the power of the vote," he said.

Dixon said the technology at the center would allow students to be virtually placed in a combine so that they could pick corn, or placed in a nursery so that they can see how small animals are raised.

"It sounds trite, and you have heard me say it numerous times, unfortunately Mr. and Mrs. Urbanite actually believe that food comes from the grocery store," he said.

"We cannot remain a free nation unless we are able to continue to feed and clothe ourselves. This facility will help us do that."

The Maxwell family and Goldsboro Milling Co. were represented by John Pike and Gordon Maxwell.

"Back in July of 2016 many of us here today stood on this same spot and celebrated the groundbreaking for the Maxwell Regional Agricultural and Convention Center," Pike said. "That came after many months, years even of discussion and probably cussing and planning."

The needs being addressed by the new facility are important ones for this region, and agriculture-related needs will certainly be near or at the top of the list, Pike said.

"As we talked almost 20 months ago now, a lot of us in the ag community strongly feel the need for doing a better job of educating the general public, especially the young folks, about the importance and many contributions of agriculture to us all," he said.

There is much work to be done in this area, and it is widely understood that the Maxwell Center will be a great catalyst to that end, he said.

Goldsboro Milling and the Maxwell family companies are truly "blessed" to be associated with the hundreds of farm families in the area that they interact with every day, he said.

That appreciation of those relationships made the decision to be a part of the project an easy one, Pike said.

It is an appropriate way to give back to the community the company has been a part of 101 years, he said.

"People in Wayne County have been really great to the Maxwell family and Goldsboro Milling Co.," Maxwell said. "We thank everybody.

"The family has, I think, enjoyed the good will of the people of Wayne County, Goldsboro Milling Co., too. I thank everybody who has helped us. We were asked to be a part of this building, and we can return a small measure of goodwill back to Wayne County they have been so nice to bless us with."

Rep. John Bell, N.C. House majority leader, said he had heard years ago the county would eventually have a convention center -- something he heard over and over as the years passed.

"Folks, we live in a wonderful community, a wonderful region and a wonderful state," he said. "If you ever doubt the power of what the agribusiness community, our small business community, our nonprofit community, our local delegation, our state delegation, our federal delegation, our city, people from all over Wayne County can do when they have one vision coming together for one purpose, just take a minute to look around."

There were bumps and bruises along the way, but the community really worked together to get here, he said.

"It is a good for North Carolina," Bell said. "It is a good day for our county. First and foremost, you are looking at a flagship location that welcomes everybody in eastern North Carolina. Anytime they come off (U.S) 70 this is what they are going to see when they come in.

"It is a shining example of agriculture. This whole thing is not only going to be able to have events promoting agriculture, but will be the catalyst for agriculture in our community."

N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore said he was honored to be at the event.

"I tell you, this is exactly what rural North Carolina needs all across this state," Moore said. "Agriculture is the lifeblood of what we do. It is our largest industry. It is our greatest employer."

Urban areas are growing in certain ways, while rural areas maybe aren't growing as quickly, Moore said.

The center is a great investment, not only for the community, but for the entire state, he said.

"This is a great example of public-private partnership, governmental involvement both on the local level and the state level to produce what is an absolutely amazing facility," he said. "This is something that I would love to see replicated around the state.

"You guys have raised the bar for everybody else now."

People in other parts of the state will be able to visit Wayne County and copy the good work that has been done, he said.

"I believe it will draw visitors," Moore said. "It will draw investment. It will help actually when it comes to creating jobs. It helps tell your story of agriculture in this community. As I tell people, if you don't tell your own story, nobody else will."