DUBLIN — Jody McLeod, who has served as the mayor of Clayton since 2003, told members of the Elizabethtown-White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that the the key to economic success is relationship building.
“It’s important that everyone is on the same page, partnering with each other to achieve the same successes,” McLeod said. “Along the way, how successful you are will depend entirely on how well you tell your story.”
McLeod was the guest speaker for the Chamber’s 64th annual meeting and awards banquet hosted by Lu Mil Vineyard.
In opening his speech, McLeod touted the fact that Clayton recently announced that it would be home to a $1.8 billion bio-pharmaceutical facility.
“That’s billion with a B, and it’s a real honor for Clayton and Johnston County,” McLeod said. “But we’ve worked hard and done a lot to be able to attract at kind of industry.”
One of the things McLeod said has helped Clayton is the fact that it’s school system and affordability have recently been recognized by national business magazines.
“A good education system is important to the success of any area,” he said. “It’s one of the boxes a business wants to check when it considers moving to your area.”
McLeod also said things like infrastructure, quality of life and recreation are also important.
“There’s a huge quality of life here in Bladen County, and not everybody knows it — which works in your favor,” he said. “You now have to find creative ways to tell them.”
One of the ways Clayton chose to tell the rest of the country about itself was to create a video. The first effort was titled “Today in America” and featured former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw talking about Clayton. That video cost the town $25,000. Recently, the town produced a second video that went public two weeks ago and cost just $500.
“We’ve gotten a lot more hits and interest from the second video than we did from the first,” McLeod said. “So it doesn’t take a lot of investment to create something that will work.”
The rest of the evening was devoted to the annual Chamber awards, which included the Small Business Award, Outstanding Chamber Member Award, Caring Person Award and the Honorary Lifetime Chamber Member Award.
But first, outgoing Chamber President Charlotte Smith bid a farewell to outgoing board members Julie Martin and Ginger Stevens, as well as welcomed incoming board members Ashley Dowless, Jeremy White and Jennifer Leggett.
Smith also heaped praise on those she has worked with closely during her time as president, most especially with Executive Director Dawn Maynard.
“She does so much for the Chamber and works hard to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible,” Smith said. “I’ve learned a lot from Dawn and as a group we’ve managed to do a lot of positive things through the Chamber — like the Summer Sounds Concert Series, the new concert coming to White Lake this month and many other things.”
At the end of the evening, Smith passed the president’s gavel to Tiina Mundy, who will be the 2016-17 president.
Outstanding Chamber Member
Normally given to an individual, this award went to the town of White Lake and was accepted by Mayor Goldston Womble.
“We’re very proud to receive this award, and it really should be shared with the town of Elizabethtown because we work together on many things,” Womble said. “It’s not called the Elizabethtown-White Lake Area Chamber by accident. We’ve always had a very good working relationship.”
The award was presented by Elizabethtown Mayor Sylvia Campbell.
Small Business Award
The winner’s handiwork was on display Tuesday evening and can also often be seen in storefronts throughout the downtown Elizabethtown. The award went to Whimsical Florist & Gifts, owned by Maurice Williams.
“I’m not a speaker, I’m a designer,” Williams said. “But I want to thank our customers and the Chamber for this award.”
The award was presented by William Findt, president of Bladen Community College. Williams will serve as the Chamber’s president-elect in 2016-17 before taking the gavel as president for 2017-18.
Caring person Award
This award went posthumously to Bobby Lewis and was accepted on his behalf by his brother Seth.
“This is Bobby … he loved history, repairing guns and pistols, making period clothing, planning the Battle of Elizabethtown, teaching young students history, telling folklore, all women, restoring the Dublin Scout Hut, the Bladen Journal, Bladen Online, marching in parades and 1,000 other things,” Seth Lewis said. “Bobby was passionate about so many things, most especially about Bladen County’s past and future.”
The award was presented by Scott Lewis, the nephew of Bobby who was dressed in the Revolutionary War-era garb.
Honorary Lifetime Chamber Member Award
Saving the biggest and best for last, this award went to Robert G. Hester — who has served as a county commissioner, been president of Star Telephone, created Bladen Online, involved with Bladen We Care, been the voice on the Bladen Sports Network for Friday night football and much more.
“You know, it has me a little worried that there is a business here that makes floral arrangements, there’s a big gathering and someone is saying nice things about me,” he opened. “At my age, I’m wondering if someone knows something I don’t.
“But seriously, this Chamber of Commerce has always been good to me over the years,” Hester said. “It’s been a great many years working with all the groups who want to make Bladen County a better place, and I’ve enjoyed being a part of that.”
The award was presented by Ricky Leinwand, who called Hester “Mr. Bladen County, a legend and my friend.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.