The 18th annual meeting of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership Inc. took place yesterday afternoon at the Surry-Badgett North Carolina Center for Viticulture and Enology, located on the campus of Surry Community College.
Mary Propes of MVP Group International gave the keynote address and NC Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker was in attendance, as well as representatives from the private and public sector.
The afternoon began with lunch and a welcome from Chairman Burke Robertson, who recognized elected officials in attendance.
After an invocation by Board Member Dean Brown, EDP President Todd Tucker recognized Tom Theden, CEO of Willow Tex, the company which plans to move into the former Harvest Time Bread Facility in Mount Airy. Theden was presented with a plaque of recognition.
Tucker said he tried recruiting Willow Tex for a while and Theden had promised to try his hardest to relocate to the area. “He lived up to that promise,” Tucker remarked.
Tucker also recognized board members in attendance and a special guest, North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker, before introducing Mary Propes, CEO of MVP Group International.
MVP Group International purchased the Colonial Candle factory in Elkin.
Mary Propes began her career as a chamber of commerce director in Kentucky and worked her way into the business sector by starting with “a baby food jar and a pitcher full of wax.” She was a single mom of two sons, who now both work for the company.
During a video overview of the company, which brought tears to the eyes of several members of the audience, Propes’ sons praised their mother for “having the guts to do what she did” to achieve the American dream — starting with nothing and achieving success through hard work and determination.
Described as a “large group of hearts” the business is, for Propes, a way to interact with people, which she truly loves. “I wanted to be in the people business. The environment you are in is one you create and I want people to be successful — this is very important.”
After inviting the audience to visit her in Charleston, S.C., and promising a tour of the flagship store, Propes ended by telling the audience, “When people do what they love, it is not about work — you can love what you do.”
Partnership President Todd Tucker addressed the audience after Propes’ speech and assured everyone that even though “the beginning of 2013 was a little rough” with the loss of several long-term businesses, 2013 has “lots of potential and opportunity for businesses and companies to grow.”
Tucker encouraged existing businesses to live by the mantra “slow and steady wins the race” by working on product development, increasing competition, analyzing budgets, and analyzing their workforce.
When Tucker asked the audience who added jobs or invested in new machinery or technology during the past year, half the room stood up.
After recognizing several organizations in the area, such as Youth Leadership of Surry, Surry First Lego League, the Mount Airy Professionals of Surry group, and Surry Community College, Tucker encouraged everyone to open their eyes and “see what is going on as a whole” in the community.
“Numbers are important, but that is not all we do. Programs are also time well spent — 2013 was off to a rocky start but we will pull ourselves through because there is lots of potential and opportunity for businesses and companies who are ready to grow.”
Tucker reminded the audience that building their workforce is essential and one of the most crucial components to success. With around 3,000 people unemployed in this area, he believes that Surry Community College and the local school systems must have the focus of everyone in the community and more businesses need to be involved by creating partnerships with the local education systems.
“We need more of this — we have kids in our schools who struggle and who need direction. We have got to give them some focus.”
In his closing remarks, Tucker says the Surry County Economic Development Partnership is working “diligently and passionately” for the people of Surry County and using a balanced approach with tourism, education, agribusiness, small businesses, existing industries, health care, and entrepreneurs.
N.C. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker
Newly appointed N.C. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Allred Decker, a lay pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), was finishing up her masters degree in divinity when she received a phone call from Gov. Pat McCrory asking her to serve as Secretary of Commerce.
Jokingly, she referred to herself as the “minister of commerce” for North Carolina.
Decker began her career with Duke Power Company, now Duke Energy, and was the first and youngest female vice president of the company. Decker most recently served as CEO for a women’s apparel company in Rutherfordton before moving into the public sector as Secretary of Commerce.
Her main goal for this year is job creation in North Carolina.
“I am looking broadly at all aspects of the economy, all across North Carolina. I want to spend a lot of time in communities listening and trying to learn what the state can do to help. On a typical day, I may begin with conversations about businesses who are looking to expand to our state, then move into meetings with developers about policy issues related to economic growth. It’s all about selling and shaping North Carolina as a great place to live and work.”