Robeson County, like the rest of the country, struggled through a recession that has put so many people out of work. But the good news is our county, because it has been saddled with a sorry economy for more than a decade, had a shorter fall. By the end of the year, gas prices that had once climbed past $4 a gallon, were at a five-year low, bringing some relief to our residents.
Fleetwood Homes, a powerful employer and corporate citizen for so long in the county, finally lost its last toehold in the county, closing its Pembroke plant, and putting about 100 more people out of work. But there was plenty of good economic news for the county’s most vibrant municipality: Pembroke voters approved mixed drinks, which will mean more jobs, and the town completed a $4.1 million recreation complex on N.C. 711 that will enhance the quality of life for area residents, and make prospective industries take a longer look.
The whole county, but particularly taxpayers, celebrated the news that Charlotte-based Piedmont Natural Gas would construct a liquefied natural gas storage facility in Robeson County that could grow our infrastructure by $350 million, adding as much $2.5 million to the county’s coffers each year after the plant is constructed.
The most notable story was former Sheriff Glenn Maynor’s entry into a federal prison in late August for his role in Operation Tarnished Badge. As the new year begins, the good news is that all who have been convicted in the investigation have been sentenced; the bad news is that investigators refuse to say the probe is history.
The year saw the murder of beloved educator and civic leader Al Parnell Jr., who was gunned down in July while taking trash to a Dumpster. A teenager has been accused of his murder. If there is a silver lining here, it was the outpouring of love that was extended to Parnell’s wife and daughter. There is a scholarship in Parnell’s honor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and an exhibit building at the county fair, where Parnell was a key board member, has been named in his honor, so he will never be forgotten.
Local elections were a yawner in Robeson County, with the status quo winning again. Lance Herndon did end the year with the county commission seat that his popular grandfather held for so long, and Judith Milsap Daniels became the second female judge in the county’s history. Leon Maynor had to go an extra mile to win his fourth term as the representative of Lumberton’s Precinct 7, and as 2009 begins, a 14-month investigation into charges that the 2007 vote was tainted apparently is continuing.
A final bit of good news was the General Assembly’s decision to fund a long-awaited multipurpose facility at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Center and Farmers Market that could be used for horse shows and other events. Local horse enthusiasts had hoped for a much grander facility, but had to be satisfied with a $3.7 million facility that would accommodate 1,000 spectators and 72 horses. As the year begins, no dirt has been turned.
So there you have it: 2008 is a wrap, and a hard look was required to find news to cheer. As the 2009 begins, our wish is that the county’s good news is much more obvious when it’s time for a review.