LUMBERTON — After decades as the point man for bringing industries and jobs to Robeson County, Greg Cummings knew it was time to call it a career.
Cummings, Robeson County’s economic development director and mayor of Pembroke, delivered an emotional farewell address to hundreds of regional business leaders at the Robeson County Industrial Appreciation Dinner this past week.
“I was humbled and honored to see the numbers that were here tonight,” Cummings said. “The group that was here, their beliefs are the same as mine, as far as the vision. They want to see new companies coming in to create jobs.”
Cummings will retire at the end of the year after serving the county for 21 years. His dedication to the growth of the region was recognized at the dinner, which was held at Adelio’s on West Third Street.
Cummings’ resilience throughout his tenure was noted by those in attendance.
“He’s been extremely successful in the last three, five, eight years,” said Raymond Cummings, chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners. “He went through some lean times. He took a lot of punishment, took a lot of beating.”
Cummings guided the county’s economic efforts through a variety of hardships, including NAFTA, the downfall of tobacco, the Great Recession and Hurricane Matthew.
The effects of that dedication spread beyond the workplace to Cummings’ family.
“Now that I have children and a family of my own, I realize the full impact growing up with a father that found so much fulfillment in his work,” said Teena Locklear, his daughter. “My dad’s attitude toward his teams made a big impression in my life.”
Cummings isn’t planning on getting in the recliner.
“We’ve got quite a few projects going on with the town of Pembroke, that’s going to keep me busy,” Cummings said. “(Retiring) gives me the opportunity to go down to the river house. I’m on the river, too. Got a lot of work down there to do since Hurricane Matthew, a lot of trees down on the river. That’s going to keep me very occupied.”
While Cummings was recognized for decades of service, a rising star in the Robeson County business world also received praise. Keith Downing, manager of the Steven Roberts Desserts plant in Pembroke, was named Industrialist of the Year.
“He turned that facility around in a short amount of time,” Raymond Cummings said.
A 26-year veteran in food manufacturing, Downing began working at the plant in 2016. He took over at a time when the plant was experiencing serious issues. A food safety incident, described by Downing as one that could “shut a plant down.” shook the company as he was interviewing for the job.
Despite his concerns, Downing agreed to take the position and immediately began to work on changing the culture at the plant. Although he hasn’t been with the company for long, the results of Downing’s efforts are already showing.
“We’re $8 million above revenue compared to last year at this time,” Downing said. “That includes losing that big account we lost last year (due to the incident). We’ve exceeded last year’s revenue numbers already in November.”
Downing also noted substantial decreases in customer complaints.
“The company is more confident in Pembroke’s ability to deliver,” Downing said. “That’s really, really important, that we deliver good, safe food.”
Reach Brandon Tester at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tester_Brandon