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Lee County's 2nd Century Is In Full Swing

By Mary Elle Hunter

      Lee County, formed in 1907 from parts of Chatham, Moore and Harnett counties, is marking its 2nd century with a concerted effort by a group of business and community leaders to promote Sanford, the county seat, and the county itself as a primary destination in which to live, work and play in the greater Triangle region of North Carolina.  In October a much-anticipated new logo and tagline for the city and the county were unveiled, together with an economic and community action plan to further advance the quality of life that its 60,000+ residents currently enjoy.

      The Second Century team, leading the drive, was organized late last year at the suggestion of Norman Block and Ray Covington, private citizens with business interests in Lee County.  Kirk Bradley, one of those initially approached by the pair, relates how Block and Covington came up with the idea of getting a group of concerned individuals together to discuss the possibility of providing private funding for promoting Sanford and Lee County.

      Bradley says the first meeting was attended by about 50 people.   That number was winnowed down to a steering committee or Research Team, of which Bradley became chairman.  The team then arranged with Rose & Associates Southeast of Davidson, NC and Arnett Muldrow & Associates of Columbia, SC to act as consultants for Phase 1 of the project.

        At the recent unveiling of the logo and tagline, Bradley said,
We want others to know the rich history and bright future our area offers.  This is only the beginning of the many great things that will come out of the project, and we are proud the residents of Sanford and Lee County are standing behind and supporting this endeavor.

      The logo was designed to demonstrate the classic, yet progressive, spirit of Lee County. The tagline, Well Centered, describes both the geographic elements and the quality of life that the community represents.

      Plans call for the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, with its 600 members, to work with other organizations to implement the community action plan, and the Chamber will oversee the implementation of the marketing plan.  According to Bob Joyce, President of the Chamber, the goal of the Second Century project was to create a brand identity that conveys the unique characteristics that make the county the perfect place to live, work and play.  This effort must engage everyone and all of us must be aware of the community's desire to promote the best about the place we call home.

      Now as the Second Century project team moves into the next phase of its five-year plan, it would appear that they have momentum on their side.  A goal to raise $250,000 for funding the marketing campaign in Phase 2 has already resulted in commitments being received for $150,000 of that amount.  Kirk Bradley hopes that they will be able to raise the balance by mid-February.

      At a November meeting, the Second Century team met with several local officials to receive an update on present and future projects.  Sanford Community Development Director Bob Bridwell provided a review of the plans his department has for the city, including beautification efforts to roads.  For the downtown area of Sanford, the plans call for updates to the walkways and older buildings, as well as a greenway project already underway.

      County Manager John Crumpton described the county's Capital Improvements Plan, which includes renovations to Lee County High School.  He said, We have some big projects to tackle and some serious financial obstacles to overcome.

      Later on, Crumpton observed the exciting part about the Second Century project is the way the local businesses have embraced the concept for a branding and marketing effort for the county.  Right now, we have given our encouragement to these efforts, but we haven't been asked for, or made, any financial commitment to the program.  Ordinarily the exact opposite would be true, and that is the reason I think the Second Century program is going to be successful.

      Over the course of the last four years, major changes have been made in the infrastructure of Lee County, including completion of a county-wide water system, completion of several four-lane road improvements throughout the county, and the construction of two new schools - a high school and a middle school - as well as substantial improvements to the industrial park.  All of which provides a good basis for the launching of the Second Century team's marketing campaign.

      The county tax rate is another plus that can be used as one of the reasons people should take a look at Lee County.  Despite an increase in 2004 to cover new bonded indebtedness for the two new schools, the tax rate is still at a reasonable 75 cents per thousand, and the goal of the county is to keep the rate at the same level until the next revaluation in 2011.

      When asked about the effects on the county's financial picture by the national economic downturn, County Manager Crumpton related that they have put a freeze on all hiring for vacant positions.  We had eight that were already open, and they, as well as any new vacancies, will be held open until the economy gets better.

      In addition, we have cut back on any out of state or overnight travel, on capital equipment, purchases, and we have developed budget reduction plans of 2 and 4 percent to address any revenue shortfalls.  At the present time, the county has put most capital projects on hold.  However, we are still working on school renovations and the repairs of the San-Lee Dam Recreational facility.

      The optimistic side of the picture, however, is that even in these bleak economic times, according to Kirk Bradley, the Second Century project seems to have strong support.  The entire community appears to be very enthusiastic about moving forward with the marketing campaign, as well as an action plan to improve all aspects of quality of life issues in our community.

      Chamber of Commerce President Bob Joyce agrees that the Second Century project has a better chance for success than past comparable efforts.  What makes this one different is we are better communicators this time, and we are not reinventing the wheel.  We've got a lot of things already working for us.  We just have to get them working together.

      As an example, Joyce points to the city's and the county's cultural assets.  A pottery tradition which includes artisans such as the world-renowned Cole family, whose work is displayed at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, has been the impetus for an annual two day pottery festival that brings between 7,000 and 8,000 people to Sanford.

      The Temple Theatre, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features musicals and plays performed by top-quality actors, some from New York, as well as jazz concerts and appearances by well-known entertainers.  A statewide competition for high school bands, a community orchestra and chorus are among the other attractions offered Lee County residents.

      Another example cited is the quality public school system from which the younger people of Lee County derive an ongoing benefit.  Coincidentally, a sixteen-member superintendent search committee representing community organizations in Lee County, appointed by the Board of Education, has recently concluded its work.  And a new superintendent of schools should be named before the end of 2008, to oversee a school population of 9,677 from kindergarten through 12th grade, of which more than 200 are enrolled in Early College High School.

      The Early College program affords highly motivated students an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and an associates degree from Central Carolina Community College in four to five years, without the cost of tuition or books.  Some ECHS students enroll with an eye toward high-paying jobs in industry, completing their associate degree in a technical field and moving quickly into the workforce.  Others may transfer to a four-year institution and gain a bachelors degree.

      The area's potential strengths, Joyce thinks, lie in the continued residential developments in the Raleigh-Durham region, which have been slowly creeping down into Chatham and Lee counties, and from Fayetteville, with the recent BRAC study showing a substantial increase in population.  He also mentions the unconfirmed reports that Progress Energy may be considering an expansion of its Harris nuclear power plant in New Hill.   If that became a reality, it could mean an increase in construction-related jobs and need for additional housing in Lee County

      Bob Joyce concludes, I believe the future of Lee County looks excellent.

Reprinted from Carolina Business online.

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