GARLAND — As the chairman of the Sampson County Board of Commissioners, Clark Wooten vision is to see continuous economic development.
It’s a goal he shares with other colleagues like John Swope, executive director of Economic Development Commission. But it’s going to take a team effort from towns all over Sampson County. During a Tuesday meeting for the Garland Board of Commissioners, Wooten spoke about the beginning phases of plan to improve growth in the county. One of the first steps is getting input from residents and town leaders.
While addressing the board and residents about a half-cent tax reduction and additional funding for local schools, Wooten said Enviva Pellets Sampson played a major role in driving the progress. The wood pellet producer generated a tax base of more than $129 million and 84 jobs.
“That boost allowed us to do those things,” Wooten said. “After experiencing that and seeing how positive it was, economic development started to rise on the Board of Commissioners’ agenda.”
Along with other Sampson County commissioners, Wooten is pushing to bring more businesses to the area. The visits to towns throughout the area gives them a chance to receive feedback about making progress. Wooten said he wants everybody on the same team as Sampsonians, building new businesses regardless of the location.
“The thing is, no one person or one group has ever done anything great,” Wooten said. “It takes a team.”
Wooten added that officials don’t want to see Sampson County wait in line for things to come. Instead, studies and assessments are in progress to target development.
“Instead of shooting with big broad-brush or shotgun, we want to target what can fit for us,” Wooten said before bringing up Enviva. “We want to find that company that will fit us and we want to go get them. We want to dial down our scope, instead of just shooting and hoping for some business.”
As an example of hope for the future, Wooten brought up Mississippi’s Golden Triangle and its visionary, Joe Max Higgins Jr., who is credited for bringing many jobs to the rural east central portion of the state.
“I think that’s somewhere we can go,” Wooten said.
Before asking for input, Wooten continued to stress the importance of teamwork.
“Garland has a rich heritage and a lot to offer; Sampson County has a lot to offer,” Wooten said. “But no one wants to come to a community where people are not unified. That’s the first thing people look at. Are these people diven to the same goal? Are these people willing to go beyond?”
Garland commissioner Austin Brown shared concerned for businesses already in Sampson County. One of the ones he mentioned was the Garland Shirt Company.
“They’re struggling to hang on and if Garland loses Garland Shirt Company, that’s a lot of tax base for this town and for the county too,” Brown said. “My concern is for the people who are already here and been here for a long time.”
Wooten said they can’t let existing businesses in the county slide, while talking about the importance of having them. John Swope, executive director of the Sampson County Economic Development Commission, said a large part of the organization’s work includes connecting with established businesses and providing assistance.
“The Garland Shirt Company has always been looking at how to actively improve and get better at what they do,” Swope said about the business that makes Brooks Brothers products. “We’re working to assist them.”
Swope added that the closing of the Brooks Brothers outlet on East Front Street is not related to factory, located on Church Avenue.
During the meeting, residents also shared their opinions on economic development. Some of the ideas include resources to train existing employees, solar farms, better Internet access and improving the water and sewer system.
Wooten was also joined by Sampson County Manager Ed Causey and Sue Lee, vice chairperson of the county’s Board of Commissioners. Garland Mayor Winifred Murphy said she wants the county to be on their team as well, while bringing up obstacles such as having a decrease in the population rate and the highest tax rates in the county.
“We would love to bring the tax rate down and we would love to be able to provide more services,” Murphy said. “We have no schools. That would be a major thing, if we can get a charter school or a magnet school in this community. People will not come here if they see no parks and if they see no schools.
“All of those things merge together,” she said. “We certainly need your help and we will be glad to work with you.”
Murphy said a lot of residents don’t reside in the Garland limits, but they live close enough to benefit from services.
Wooten also agreed that providing education was important for students, in addition to jobs, so they’ll want to return after earning degrees to bring their talents back to Sampson County.
“That’s the endgame for me personally,” Wooten said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.