Sampson Regional Medical Center played host for the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce Leadership Council Roundtable meeting Thursday morning.A total of 16 men and women from the areas of manufacturing, business, education, healthcare, municipalities and Chamber representatives sat around the table to discuss their individual accomplishments and successes and also addressed concerns and challenges they faced in today’s business environment.
Chamber president Gary Mac Herring welcomed the group and explained the format in which everyone would share if they chose, and then the group would brainstorm to help them solve challenges they may be facing.
Former Chamber president Sherrill Allen led the discussion as the individuals took time to introduce themselves and share with the others present.
“The Sampson County Leadership Council consists of principle-oriented, successful and committed community leaders, visionaries, business leaders, educators and others who demonstrate a powerful commitment to the betterment of our community and its citizens,” explained Janna C. Bass, executive director of the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce. “The purpose of this meeting is to collectively and productively serve the best interest of our county and to foster an environment of cooperation that will serve as a model to others,” added the director.
Dr. Ethan Lenker, superintendent of Sampson County Schools, was the first to share, and he expressed that the first six to eights weeks of this school year had been very successful. He addressed the issue of being able to reinstate salary loses by the teacher assistants and even the hiring of additional staff which, he said, was a move in the right direction.
Lenker also shared that the county schools had been able to expand its AIG staff to improve the quality of education for gifted students. The superintendent stated that much like many others, the General Assembly has presented the school system with many challenges, including the implementation of a new curriculum this year, the Common Core.
“The new curriculum has presented a challenge not only to our teachers, as they have already done a good job implementing it, but also for the students and their parents. As we work through this new challenge we all will become better equipped to provide the best educational opportunities for our students in the future,” expressed Lenker.
The superintendent also shared that plans were in place to coordinate between SCC, Clinton City and the county schools to devise a vocational assistance program that will help the majority of students who choose to attend the community college learn a skill and enter the workforce rather than attending a four year college or university.
Roseboro Mayor David Alexander spoke next, noting that his town had a lot going on. He referred to the Cruise In of old cars slated for Friday night and the upcoming Harvest Train scheduled for Nov. 3. The mayor shared that money was a challenge that everyone was facing, incuding Roseboro, and he noted that the town had applied for, and been denied, a grant to make improvements to the old park. The town, he said, was in the process of applying for other grants that would allow them to renovate the park and turn the old depot into a museum.
In response to the town’s funding issues, Allen suggested the mayor and others may want to look at forming a private/public partnership of some type to help with the funding problem as a solution.
Jerry Heinzman, vice president at Sampson Regional Medical Center, said the hospital had experienced a good year. The facility has and is continuing to upgrade its equipment and facilities to accommodate the citizens of the county, he noted.
“The biggest challenges facing us is the insurance reimbursement. About 10 percent of the people coming through the emergency room doors are not able to make any contribution for their care. We receive about six cents on the dollar in reimbursement for these patients,” stated Heinzman.
The SRMC administrator added that the Affordable Health Care plan did not help in that even more people would have insurance and the government reimbursement would be less than that received from the insurance companies.
“We have already heard that many businesses are planning to choose to pay the tax to the government rather than continue to provide health care coverage for their employees. These employees will then be covered through the government insurance provider at a reduced reimbursement to the hospital,” explained Heinzman.
Heinzman also stressed that it is vitally important for Chamber members and other leaders of the group do everything they can to promote the utilization of the hospital. “About half of the county’s residents travel outside of the county for healthcare. We need to keep them here and provide for their medical needs at home,” remarked the administrator.
Herring shared that he was also representing the town of Newton Grove because Myor Gerald Darden was unable to attend. The Newton Grove commissioner expressed that the town was in sound financial condition but, as the others had shared, money is always a challenge.
“We are looking at ways to maintain the same level of service to our residents without having to raise taxes and fees. As we strive to grow, it proves to be more of a challenge each year. But we are continuing to do what we can to provide for our citizens,” said Herring.
Bass spoke for the Chamber and shared that the Chamber has seen growth and is working hard to improve awareness of what being a member of the Chamber can provide for the member.
“We are trying to convey to our members the value of what we can do for them. We have many opportunities in which we can assist our members and we are working to ensure we provide services to everyone,” asserted Bass.
Schindler representative Chuck Spell stated that business for his company was almost too good.
“We have orders for the remainder of this year and are booked for most of next year and beyond. We have projects in several places and have gotten bids in for many others,” stated Spell.
Schindler is providing all the escalators for the new 49ers stadium and some Pentagon construction currently taking place. Spell also added that the company was bidding on a big project for the transit system in Washington, D.C.
In relation to challenges Schindler is facing, Spell shared it was one of manpower.
“We have found that the 20-30 year old age group do not have a good work ethic. They seem to feel that they are owed something and do not have to report to work or buck when asked to work 10 hours. It is a burden to train these workers for them to leave, and we don’t get a return from them. We are having better success with people coming right out of high school who are willing to work. Hopefully the program Dr. Lenker spoke about will help with this problem in providing us all better manpower,” remarked Spell.
Clinton city manager John Connet commented that Clinton has seen some very positive changes recently. He shared that the downtown renovations had been completed and now the focus was on updating and renovating the town’s infrastructure. The city manager also added that the purchase of the old manufacturing site on U.S. 421 by Hog Slat and Cintas purchase of the building they were renting and Brooks Brothers also buying their building had added to the town significantly.
“It is good to see Clinton experiencing a little growth. But as Chuck shared, the town is also experiencing challenges with people in the same age group (20-30 year olds), either committing crime or giving the perception that they are up to something by just walking around town. The Legislature has not been helpful to municipalities and they are passing costs down to us and our citizens are expecting us to maintain the same level of service they have become accustomed to and we are trying to continue those services without a tax or fee increase. We need to start looking now where we want to be in the future and start working in that direction if we are to continue to see growth in our town,” asserted Connet.
“The world is changing and changing rapidly. We have go to start taking an active part in what our future is going to be,” stated Ed Causey, county manager.“I have spent my nearly three years not, as some of the commissioners like to say, as a ‘tax and spend guy,’ but as a fix and a repair guy. Salaries in our county have never been fully implemented after the last salary review done about four or five years ago. We need to become visionaries and develop long-term strategies for what we want to be in the future. As it now stands the county is in strong financial condition but if you look at how things are changing, that could quickly turn around,” cited the county manager.
Economic Development director John Swope shared with the group that the growth in industry within the county is not a reflection of the economy nor is it the traditional activity seen in economic growth. Swope stated that what eastern North Carolina is experiencing is businesses and industry seeking to move to the East Coast and that is where a lot of the growth is coming from. He also alluded to the future building of the ChemTex plant that will hopefully be up and operational by the end of 2014. Swope expressed that his department’s biggest challenge was getting utilities and provide access to properties located near the interstate areas within the county.
Small Business Center coordinator Cliff Ireland spoke on behalf of SCC and the Small Business Center. He stated that SCC and the Business Center faced a challenge receiving the support of the local citizens.
“Online educational opportunities has put all educational institutions in competition with one another to provide educational service. We have to ensure that our county’s students turn to us whenever possible for their educational needs. We also need space to run some of our programs and I have to compete with space at the college. We also need to increase awareness of our citizens to rely on services provided locally first. We all need to promote buy local first,” shared Ireland.
In concluding the discussion, Allen stated that the chamber would like to entertain the possibility of holding a public forum where the Leadership Council can hear first hand from the public challenges they are facing and how the council can address them to improve life throughout the county. Allen also took the suggestion of the chamber assisting in developing a long-term plan for the county’s development. The former chamber president added that the chamber already had the committee in place it just needed to activate it and get started.
“We need to ask ourselves…Where do we go from here?” said Allen.
Bass ended by saying a thank you to Sampson Regional Medical Center for hosting the Round Table and for each participant for taking the time to attend.
“We know each participant is extremely busy and we are honored that they chose to be a part of this important discussion. We are excited to continue to grow this discussion as we look into citizen engagement and the vision for Sampson County for all parties involved,” stressed the executive director.