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The Elizabethtown-White Lake Area chamber of Commerce held their annual banquet and awards at Lu Mil Vineyard on Tuesday night. Outgoing Chamber President Charlotte Smith passed the gavel to incoming President Tiina Mundy.

The Chamber recognized the outgoing board members Julie Martin and Ginger Stevens and also recognized incoming board members Ashley Dowless, Jeremy White and Jennifer Leggett.

Also recognized was a new program called Chamber Ambassadors. The Ambassadors will be assisting Chamber Executive Director Dawn Maynard and helping to promote area businesses.

He keynote speaker for the evening was Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod. He discussed how the town of Clayton has grown and how they were able to market their town as a place where industry wanted to locate with a great quality of life.

McLeod listed several items that industries look for when seeking a place a to locate: a strong educational system, infrastructure, and most of all a good quality of life.

“We have a strong economic development board and we recognize an industry each quarter,” said McLeod.

He said Clayton’s first real brush with economic development ventures came when a pharmaceutical company was searching for a location and was seeking to invest about $1 billion. McLeod said as they showed the executives around Clayton and took to view various potential sites two questions stood out. One was regarding the schools and the second was the quality of life.

McLeod said the town is always seeking ways to improve the quality of life for residents as well as seeking ways to market the town to industry. The town has had two different marketing videos made to promote the town to potential industries.

Also, McLeod said that another important tool in marketing the town is to have a Department of Commerce ore-approved sites to show. He also said towns need to review their infrastructure and to look at ways they can improve upon it.

Most importantly, in Clayton and Johnston County, everyone builds a consensus of what needs to be done to attract industry to the area and everyone works together.

Next, Outgoing Chamber President Charlotte Smith said, “It has been a great honor to work alongside the board members. It’s amazing the knowledge I’ve gained.”

She itemized some the activities the board has been involved in dev eloping. She noted the Sumer Sounds Concert Series was a big success and the Chamber now has a new website. The Chamber has developed an Ambassadors program and the White Lake Water Festival is an event everyone looks forward to attending.

A concert is planned for White Lake on June 30 called the Sunset Jams concert. It will feature Steve Owens and Summertime.

The Chamber banquet would not be complete without the annual awards ceremony. The award for Outstanding Chamber Member was presented to the town of White Lake.

Elizabethtown Mayor Sylvia Campbell presented the award. She said, “The Outstanding Chamber Member Award goes to a group of individuals who work very hard behind the scenes.”

Campbell said the town of White Lake assists with moving the stage for the Summer Sounds Concert Series at the Cape Fear Farmer’s Market as well as the White Lake Water Festival.

The White Lake Town Board accepted the award and Mayor Goldston Womble said the award should be shared with the town of Elizabethtown. He noted the two towns have a very good working relationship with one another.

The award for Outstanding Small Business went to Maurice Williams, owner of Whimsical Florist. He was joined by his wife, Vickie Williams. Bladen Community College President William Findt present the award to Williams.

He said Williams joined the Chamber in 2011 and has been a huge asset. Findt said that Williams volunteers for events and activities all of the time. He said that Williams is always ready and willing to local merchants with their storefronts and other decorating needs.

Williams was joined on stage by his wife, Vickie Williams, and thanked everyone for their support. He noted that his success is due in large part to the support of the community.

The Caring Person Award was given posthumously to Bobby Lewis and was accepted on his behalf by his brother, Seth Lewis. Scott Lewis presented the award. Seth Lewis said that Bobby Lewis loved being a member of the Backwoods Militia and loved history and sharing it with children and adults alike.

The Honorary Lifetime Chamber Member Award was presented by Ricky Leinwand. The award was given to Robert Hester. Leinwand said that Hester is a former Bladen County Commissioner, he serves on the Bladen’s Bloomin’ Agri-Industrial Board, he serves on the Bladen We Care board, and has been awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Hester is also founder of Bladen Online and he is a member of the Bladen Sports Network broadcast team.

Leinwand said that Hester is also a strong family man and faithful to his church.

Hester said, “It has been a great time over the years.”

He noted that in the 1970s he traveled with a group to recruit a young physician to come to Elizabethtown. Hester said the group negotiated with the young doctor and they came back to Bladen County and built a building to house the doctor’s office. That young doctor was Dr. Bruce Philips.

He also thanked everyone for the recognition.

The final order of the business saw the passing of the gavel from Charlotte Smith to Tiina Mundy.

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