PEMBROKE — A local economic development group on Thursday honored Charles Chrestman, the outgoing president of Robeson County Community College, with a certificate of appreciation for his educational and economic efforts in Robeson County.
“Chrestman has played a great role in educational investment into our community,” said Channing Jones, chairman of the Robeson County Committee of 100, at the group’s annual meeting at COMtech. “He’s also played a very vital role in economic development and many of our folks here on the executive board can attest, and the county can attest, for him going with them and trying to help invest in not only our local business, but most certainly attracting new business.”
Chrestman, the president of RCC for a decade, is leaving that position on Thursday.
The group also honored its executive director, Sylvia Pate, by presenting her with a gift for her efforts.
The Robeson County Committee of 100, which was established 26 years ago, is a nonprofit that works to promote economic development.
“We act as an economic arm for our local county and the region as a whole,” Jones said. “Hopefully helping with workforce development, for facility needs and for anything we can do to help companies sustain, and also for new companies looking to come in … .”
The committee during the past year has been active in opposing an effort to put tolls on Interstate 95 as a way to pay for future improvements to the highway, according to Jones. Critics say tolls would be a burden on local people who depend on the highway for their everyday routines, would push motorist onto less-safe secondary roads, and would be a disincentive to industries looking for a place to set up shop.
“The biggest thing here is that we work in conjunction with our current economic development commission in the county,” he said. “Without the support, we wouldn’t have all the breaks we needed to do what we do, but most certainly we play a very important role in trying to attract business to this area.”
Greg Cummings, director of Robeson County Economic Development Commission and a ex-officio member of the committee, said the nonprofit brings a “wealth of knowledge” to economic development efforts.
“They are my economic arm,” Cummings said. “A lot of ways that they help me out is dealing with engineering studies and phase one environmental studies on my industrial sites. That is a critical role they play.”
Cummings highlighted the committee’s effort in helping gain state certification for six industrial sites spread over 2,600 acres of Robeson County.
Billy Ray Hall, president of North Carolina’s Rural Economic Development Center, was the guest speaker at the event.
“Thank you for the work you do,” Hall said. “If you didn’t do the do the work, Robeson County wouldn’t be growing.”
Hall said that 19 percent of Robeson County’s residents work in manufacturing, about twice the percentage for North Carolina.
“Fourteen percent of those jobs are in Robeson County,” he said.
Hall said that infrastructure, workforce development, leadership as well as education are the recipe for successful economic development.
“A lot of people think that the school’s over here, and over here is economic development. No, it’s the same thing,” he said. “When that plant comes in, the first thing families are going to do is ask about education.”
Hall said that job opportunities exist for young adults in Robeson County.
“You are not one of the 34 counties where young people are declining in numbers of the population,” he said. “People aged 25 to 30 are declining in 34 North Carolina rural counties. Here they are moving back.”