Making Laurinburg a target for business

Cory Hughes Contributing Columnist

January 8, 2014

As we embark on a new year, I am honored to take this opportunity to introduce you to “Target Laurinburg.” Some may have heard of this effort. For others, this is a new term. In almost all cases, the first question needs to be, “what is Target Laurinburg?”

Target Laurinburg is not an entity. It is not the new name of an organization. It is a movement and a shared goal: To improve the economic well-being of our community by bringing new businesses and corporations to our community, creating a community that makes companies want to stay here, and providing access to training and education that creates a better, more employable workforce. In short, to make Laurinburg and Scotland County a better place for business, and in doing so, a better place to live.

There are a number of entities that have a direct responsibility for economic development in Scotland County. Obviously, Greg Icard and the Scotland County Economic Development Corporation focuses on this issue 24/7. Tonia Stephenson and her staff at the Chamber are rooted in this concern. I coordinate travel and tourism to create events, economic growth and jobs.

Yet we are only the tip of the iceberg. Add in Greg Wood and his staff at Scotland Health Care System. Does Greg get up each morning and ask, “How can I manage SHCS today in a manner that will add more jobs to our community?” No, the primary concern of Scotland Health Care is to provide our community access to excellent healthcare. But in doing so, they create a healthier employment base, and a better place to own a company.

What about St. Andrews University? While it is certainly a primary employer within the community, St. Andrews also provides further economic value by graduating hundreds of young men and women each year to enter the workforce, many of whom stay here. Additionally, the many events and programs the university sponsors each year brings thousands of visitors to our community.

St. Andrews is not alone in their effort to create a more employable workforce. There is no need to review the undisputed fact that a better-educated individual is a more employable individual. And that is where Richmond Community College, Scotland High School and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke come in — providing educational opportunities, and in doing so, making our community a better place for business, and a better place to live.

Add to these entities a vibrant downtown and main street, a working airport, strong county and city governments and workforce development, and you start to see a community with many oars in the water, all working towards the same goal. And then you also realize that we are not in this effort alone, but that others such as Secretary Sharon Decker at the North Carolina Department of Commerce are also in the boat working with us, and a more vivid, powerful picture is presented.

Yes, each of our entities has our own responsibilities and must answer to specific stakeholders, but we share a common purpose, a unifying thread: A mission to make companies and businesses Target Laurinburg.

Which leads to a second question, “why Laurinburg — what do you see?”

It is easy to see the challenges we face as a community; it is more valuable to see through these challenges to the covenant that we, as citizens, businesses and government, have made to our community.

While some may be blind to it, we see a strong town — with strength both in character and community passion. We see a town built on the shoulders of its citizens, who, like those in most small towns, have a culture of working with each other to make a better life for all.

We also appreciate that at the foundation of being “a great place to live, work and play” is a strong, vibrant economy. It is in economic development where we also embrace the true meaning of the word “community.” We have pooled our efforts so often, with such valuable results, that Laurinburg and our sister communities in Scotland County are now a living testament to what can be accomplished when we work together for a common cause: to improve the economic well-being of our community.

This display of success is borne out across all stages of economic development — from employee education and training, to business recruitment, to business community enhancement, with a constant focus on creating a business-friendly atmosphere. Recent efforts include:

— The completion of the new Diane Honeycutt Center in Laurinburg for Richmond Community College.

— The development of the “Early College” program — the first in the state where the public schools, the community college, the county and a private university work together.

— The solidification of St. Andrews University as a pillar of the community.

— The creation by the Chamber of Commerce of the “Young Entrepreneur Academy (YEA!) — the only one in the state.

— The continued expansion of Scotland Health Care System into a regional healthcare provider and our community’s largest employer.

— The public and private funding of exit lights on Highway 74, an investment that positively impacts over 50 businesses and 1000 employees.

— The creation of the “Small Business Innovation Center” by Scotland County Economic Development Corporation — a partnership between Scotland County, the City of Laurinburg and Richmond Community College.

— And, most recently, the creation of the Chamber of Commerce “Committee of 100” — a program developed by an independent businessman within the community.

What do we see? We see a great opportunity for others to “Target Laurinburg/Scotland County.”

Over the next year, each Thursday in this space, you will hear from those of us involved in Target Laurinburg. We will discuss how our entities contribute to the economic well-being of our community, keep you updated on efforts, and open dialogue on the program. We hope it is enlightening. At the least, like myself, I think you will be humbled by those that strive everyday to improve the economic health of our community.

Cory Hughes is the executive director of the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority.