Category Archives: Growth

Has Gastonia Turned the Corner?

SEABROOK SAYS: Charles Gray is approaching the age of 80 and is consistently operating with tremendous energy.  One of the hard questions he asks is, “Have we (in Gaston County) turned the corner?” What is your answer? Are you ready to get involved in the same level as Charlie?  Why yes? Why no?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In the past, I have expressed concern over Gastonia’s failure to grow in comparison to other cities in Metrolina.  I cited past reputation, missed opportunities, and unfavorable city regulations and inspections as reasons for our slow growth.  Recently, however, I have seen the following signs of hope (many of the facts have been furnished by Bill Seabrook):

  1. The Loray Mill and redevelopment of the Loray Mill.  The converted mill is now 96% occupied and we mill houses are scheduled for renovation and sale.

         

  2. The proposed sports center in West Gastonia.  The Sears building has already been purchased and the 15 million dollar project is scheduled for completion in 2019.

  3. The hotel in downtown Gastonia, with the first phase scheduled for opening in

    March of 2017.  

     

  4. The Harriss-Teeter shopping center and the new YMCA in South Gastonia. The 19

    million dollar YMCA project, headed by Tony Sigmon, has already been funded by local contributions and should be a showplace for the whole region.

     

  5. The formation of Gaston Outside (GO) under the leadership of Mark Cramer, who is working hard to improve Gaston’s image as a desirable place to live.

     

  6. A new attitude at city hall to make Gastonia more development friendly. The city

    council, under the direction of Mayor John Bridgeman, is providing strong leadership and the planning and inspections departments under the guidance of city manager Ed Munn and Flip Bombardier, are showing the much needed flexibility to encourage developers to come to Gastonia.

     

  7. The soon to be constructed artspace building will encourage the development of arts and culture in downtown Gastonia.

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  9. Through the hard work of our local school officials and Carrie Meier, Chris Dobbins

     and Steve Eason at our health department, teen pregnancy is down more that 52.7% with a tax savings of 40 million dollars. Our school drop-out rate is down and the graduation rate is up.

     

  10. The advanced manufacturing facility is well under way adjacent to the campus of

     Gaston College and should be completed ny the Spring of 2017.  

There are other needed projects, such as the southern bridge over the Catawba River and the expansion of the water and sewer down Union and New Hope Roads, but I believe Gastonia has turned the corner.

The other day I was playing golf with a young, successful real estate developer in Charlotte.  When he found out I was from Gastonia, he said, “I sure wish I lived in Gastonia. The traffic in Charlotte is unbearable.”  This tells me that our questionable reputation is fading and that Gastonia can be an ideal place for people to live and work in this rapidly growing area.  Let’s don’t foul it up.

 

Charles Gray

Retired attorney

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Gaston County: Love It or Leave It?

SEABROOKS SAYS: Jason Shoemaker is right – how you describe our county to others, either in the county or outside the county, will make a difference.  As he says, you don’t have to love Gaston County or leave it, but at least be proud of the positive things happening here. Now that you know, what will you do?   

“Love it or Leave it.” Some pro-war demonstrators used this phrase during the divisive Vietnam War. We have heard it many times in our lives, usually in reference to issues of national debate. Of course, this binary choice is not fair. One of the great things about our nation is the ability to express dissent, displeasure, and even dislike of the United States. That freedom of expression is a foundation of our democracy.

Although the “love it or leave it” statement itself may not be fair, the phrase reminds me of something meaningful that a friend once told me. He and I were discussing Gaston County, in particular how many residents reluctantly and sheepishly admit that they live or work here. When some citizens tell others that they are from Gastonia, or even Gaston County,  they lower their heads or go along with a degrading joke about the area. To this point, my friend questioned, “If you are not proud of something, why be a part of it?” Gaston County citizens should ask themselves this question.

We are all part of the Gaston County community. Although you may not agree with everything — and certainly there is room for improvement — we have seen many positive changes in the County during the past 13 years that I have lived here. Gastonia overcame the loss of thousands of textile jobs in the 1990s. Our local hospital has become a well known regional medical center. Centered around Crowders Mountain, the western part of the county has become an attraction for outdoor enthusiasts. Belmont and Mount Holly have become destinations in the eastern part of the county. Cramerton and McAdenville firmly established themselves as vibrant, small town communities with their own unique identities. And the list goes on. Not everyone will be a cheerleader for their city or county, but at least acknowledge the positive efforts.

Regardless of whether you chose to relocate here, moved here for work (like I did), or have lived in Gaston County all your life, we almost certainly share a similar goal – to make this county a better place (after all, it would be hard to imagine anyone hoping for their hometown or home county to decline or fail). With that in mind, the next time someone asks where you live, do not be afraid to tell them. When someone makes a negative joke or comment about the area, tell them something positive. Speak about downtown Belmont, Goat Island Park, Crowders Mountain, Loray Mill, or the multi-use stadium district which will transform the western part of Gastonia. Even if you do not give the person specifics, remind him or her that we are trying to make Gaston County a better place.

This is our community. How you describe it to others, either in the county or outside the county, will make a difference. You don’t have to love Gaston County or leave it, but at least be proud of the positive things happening here.

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Jason Shoemaker

Attorney
Mullen, Holland and Cooper, PA

 

 

 

F3- Fitness, Fellowship, Faith

SEABROOK SAYS: Steven Long, the co-leader of Gastonia Sheet Metal, tells about his high level of commitment to F3.  F3, a national organization, was founded in Charlotte.  The organization is dedicated to grow young male county leadership in unique ways.  Gaston County desperately needs young leaders to emerge to lead us now and into the future. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

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Six days each week, usually in the gloom of 5:30 am or 7:00 am, men gather at different locations throughout Gaston County for a 45 – 60 minute workout. The number of attendees at any given workout can vary from 3 – 35+.  The rules for these ‘Boot Camp’ style workouts are very simple and are as follows, they are open to all men, are held outside regardless of weather conditions, are free, are led by the attendees in a rotating fashion and each workout ends with a Circle of Trust.

The F3 movement began on New Year’s Day 2011 in Charlotte, NC. The mission of the group isn’t to get men in better shape, it’s “to plant, grow and serve small workout groups for the invigoration of male community leadership.”  You can find this exact wording on the website, www.F3Nation.com.

Something happens on the road to better leadership the F3 way with regular attendance at workouts. Regular attendees get in better shape.  It is impossible to attend multiple workouts each week and not see your fitness level improve.  Regular attendees meet other men with similar goals and thoughts on life, family, faith, etc.  This fellowship is ultimately what brings the men back week after week.  New friendships are formed from this fellowship and interaction leads to more opportunities to serve each other and the community.  Regular attendees become a part of a group that supports each other, motivates and holds each other accountable, and pushes each other to be better.

For me personally, the F3 story started in March, 2015 when a good friend from Church invited me to the first few workouts. Initially, there was one weekly workout held on Saturday mornings with the group meeting in the parking lot at the Schiele Museum.  When I finally got out for that first Saturday, I was blown away by what I experienced.  First, there were 18 – 20 persons in attendance including several that I personally knew.  There were guys from other F3 Regions there to lead the first few weeks of workouts until the Gastonia group was ready to lead on its own.  I had the same thoughts that most have at the first workout, “I’m not in good enough shape”.  What I found was a group of men working to be better regardless of fitness level.  I witnessed all ranges of fitness level that first day including guys who could have done that workout in half the time and then ran a marathon right after to guys who were struggling to keep up after the first 10 minutes.  It was terrific. I found myself to be somewhere in the middle of the pack that day for most of the workout and that is where I continue to be.  The guys in front did all they could to help the guys in back and that’s what struck me mostly at that first workout.  Since then, I have posted over 130 times, led 15 – 20 workouts and helped launch a workout in Lincolnton.  I have become close friends with men I would have never met otherwise and had these same men check on me after missing a few workouts.  I have found it to improve my daily outlook and health.

From that first workout in March, 2015 to now, we have grown to 13 different workouts throughout the week at 8 different locations and are looking to add more. We have multiple workouts scheduled each week in Cramerton, Gastonia and Dallas with the newest location on Saturday mornings in Belmont.  This link shows the exact locations and times, http://f3nation.com/schedules/gastonia-nc/ . Please come out and see what it’s about.  I can almost assure you won’t regret it…….at least not after getting a few workouts behind you.  Aye!!

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Steven Long (F3 Stroganoff)
President, Residential Divisions
Gastonia Sheet Metal

P.S. – At the end of your first workout, you’ll be given your F3 nickname…so think hard before answering those questions.

Tourism: Growing Gaston County’s (No Longer) Sleeping Giant

SEABROOK SAYS: Let’s hear it for Michael Applegate!  Mike, our new Director of Travel and Tourism, brings refreshing new energy to Gaston County.  Read and be reminded of all the good things to do and see right here at home. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Over the past two decades, Gaston County’s travel & tourism industry has grown by leaps and bounds. Remarkably, even with this amazing surge, our best is yet to come.

What We Do and Who We Do It For

As Director of our County’s destination marketing organization, I strive to stay focused on four major areas that best serve our local residents, municipal stakeholders, industry partners and the traveling public:

  1. Marketing and Selling to the Visitor – this includes targeting the right group and individual markets as well as both leisure and business & conference related audiences.
  2. Informing, Educating and Advising the Visitor – we publish a visitor’s guide, maintain a website, run social media campaigns, and distribute partner materials to familiarize travelers with the vast array of experiences our County offers.
  3. Delivering Services to the Visitor- acting as a liaison between the visitor and our local hotel, attraction, restaurant, and retail partners, we represent the collective interests of the industry by making recommendations that meet our customers’ needs and produce a satisfying stay.
  4. Developing the Destination – working with local governments, county departments, industry partners and community leaders we support a strategic, well-planned vision for the future growth and development of our destination.

These focus areas come to life through our strategic plan, the main pillars of which are: Sales & Marketing– we are committed to marketing the destination in creative and unique ways to grow awareness, visitation and tourism spending; Partnership– we embrace our role in representing the collective interests of our stakeholders and we value their investment in our destination; Service– we are dedicated to exceeding the expectations of our visitors, our clients, and our partners to foster positive experiences and ongoing loyalty; and Destination Management– we will advocate for the development of events and venues within our County that positively impact our tourism industry and solidify our brand position.

Tourism is Economic Development

Similar to our County’s Economic Development Commission, our goal in Travel & Tourism is to stimulate local investment. However, the investment we pursue comes in the form of visitor spending.  Any time a person travels to Gaston County from 50 miles or more away, either for the day or overnight, the dollars they spend here support our local economy. Last year, visitors to Gaston County collectively spent a whopping $234 million dollars.  These direct expenditures helped to employ over 1,800 individuals working in our local tourism industry. Further, spending by travelers visiting our area generated $12.9 million in state tax receipts and $3.8 million in local tax receipts.  The state and local tax collections resulting from visitor spending represent a tax savings per resident of $79.46.

In hitting the $234 million mark last year, annual visitor spending in Gaston County has now grown over $71 million in the past ten years (up from $163 million in 2005). In the past twenty years, annual visitor spending in Gaston County has grown over $132 million (up from $102 million in 1995).                Among North Carolina’s 100 Counties, Gaston County ranks seventeenth in annual visitor expenditures.

Branding a Key to Destination Management

In order to best deliver upon our organizational mission – to effectively market and promote travel to Gaston County and to strategically manage the development of future tourism assets in order to maximize overnight stays, visitor spending, client satisfaction and local partner engagement – we must have a compelling message about the experience we offer visitors. This is executed through branding- the creation of an emotional bond connecting our visitor audiences to Gaston County.  A credible, authentic, resonant brand differentiates us from the pack, provides consistent messaging for our tourism product and becomes an aspirational rallying point for residents and tourism partners.  A strong and unique identity helps us attract more visitors and to generate more revenue. With branding, we actively support all pillars of our strategic plan- sales & marketing, partnership, client satisfaction and destination management.

With our strategic plan and unique positioning through destination branding, Gaston County is poised to grow tourism to levels not previously seen. I am incredibly excited to part of this vibrant destination, particularly at this time.

Michael Applegate
Director, Gaston County Travel and Tourism

HOPE

SEABROOK SAYS: Tony Sigmon is the leader of the Gaston County Family YMCA which has five operational facilities.  When the Y’s $18 million new facility is ready, Gaston County may well have the best in America. Tony writes on HOPE.  Read on and commit to give it your thought time. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

When my friend Bill Seabrook asked if I would write an article for “Digging Deeper,” it immediately hit me what I wanted to cover.   In a time like this, in a place like this, we all need a good healthy dose of Hope in our lives. For several years I have been pondering the question, “what is our greatest need?”  Looking around and seeing the unrest locally and abroad, observing the current political climate, seeing young people put off adulthood longer now than ever and seeing yet others have to jump into adulthood way too early; all of this brings me to my next question, where is the hope?  Some get so busy with day to day and yet others find ways to escape reality.  There seems to be a huge void of hope in our world.

Last week I had the pleasure of serving my 22nd year at the YMCA’s Blue Ridge Leaders School in Black Mountain, NC.  This “school” is a week long program where 700 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 from YMCAs throughout the South experience a physical education and leadership development training school so that they can become better leaders for their home YMCAs and communities.   Once again I was reminded what “Hope” looks like and through the eyes of a young person.   At the school there are eight 17/18 year olds who serve the school, having been selected the previous year as the “best of the best.”  They are called Honor Leaders.  Two of those Honor Leaders shared a reflection on HOPE.  Instead of listening to me pontificate, here is some of what they had to say.

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Hope. A small word, with a large meaning.  It plays a different role in each of our lives and there are many ways to define it.  Hope is looking towards the future with a clear vision.  Hope is acknowledging the uncertainty that is possible in any given situation.  Hope is our motivation to continue persevering through a difficult situation.  Often, hope is the idea we cling to when all our efforts have failed.  That small word, with such an incredible meaning, is essential to having a healthy spirit and mind.  Throughout different experiences in life, we have a persistent twinge of hope that the best outcome will be in our favor.  During these times, where do we find hope? Often we turn to temporary gratifications such as social media, negative attention or bad habits.  But they are just that, temporary and usually unhealthy.  Ultimately, this leaves us unsatisfied and wanting more.  When we find hope in temporary satisfactions, we are restricting ourselves from experiencing the hope that God provides us every day.

Think back to when you were a young child. Can you recall just how simple life was then?  We were surrounded by stories of happily ever afters, courageous heroes and victorious underdogs.  As children we have so much hope around us every day that it’s hard to be anything but positive.  The older we get, the realities of life alter our pure sight of this hope and it becomes more and more blurred.  Although we no longer cling to fictional stories to instill our hope, we have things that we do believe in.  For us and so many more we have the YMCA.  Here we see hope in action.  We see it when the dreams of an underprivileged child come true, when a struggling parent receives the financial assistance she needs to allow her children to attend camp or afterschool so she can work without worrying about them, or when a lonely widower gets time to socialize while they exercise in classes at the Y.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to use the hope we receive every day and spread it to others.  We all of have the potential to be someone’s hero.

When I hear an 18 year old talk like that to a group of 700 teens and 200 adults, I am inspired. It ignites a Hope in me that I want to share with others.  Our local community is right at that “Tipping Point” and there are so many great things that inspirational leaders are doing here in Gaston County.  My closest and favorite example is the New Y at Robinwood Lake.  To be a part of this incredible community lifting project is amazing, but working alongside leaders like Andy Warlick, Gene Matthews, George Henry, Richard Rankin, Steve Huffstetler, May Barger and Frank Craig is beyond a blessing to me.  Seeing so many more people excited to the point that they give the largest gifts that they have ever given to any project is a testament to leadership, inspiration and hope.  It is also a focused energy that creates a best of the best attitude and an excitement that is unparalleled.  My hope is that this is a beginning for Gastonia and Gaston County to see how bringing energy, vision, community and leadership together around a common cause brings great hope and makes dreams come true.  We have great potential to thrive as leaders, as community and as a county.  Now, “go be someone’s hero.”

Tony Sigmon
CEO, Gaston County Family YMCA

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It’s Now or Never

SEABROOK SAYS:  Charles Gray is a highly-respected attorney who is now retired and who has great concern about the welfare of Gaston County.  Read about his concern for lower Gaston County and the access from there to the Charlotte area.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The other day, I traveled through Tega Cay, part of Highway 49 and River Hills.  I was amazed at the growth and vibrant activity in those areas.  I continued on and saw new schools and new residential areas until I crossed into Gaston County on Union Road.  It was like going back in time – nothing but open, undeveloped land, all the way to Gastonia.  The same existed along New Hope Road. No activity.

The Garden State Parkway would have changed this, but the wisdom (or lack thereof) of our legislators killed that project.  But Gaston County has one last chance. With the announced residential and commercial project in Mecklenburg County, extending from I-485 to the river, the need for access becomes a priority.   The new southern bridge over the Catawba River gains more importance.

With the new bridge, we could see a road from I-485 cross the river and connect to New Hope Road.  With cooperation between private land developers, the Federal Government, the NC DOT, Gaston County, Belmont, Cramerton and Gastonia, improvements could be made to New Hope Road and connect it to I-485.  This would open up southern Gaston County to unbelievable development and provide needed access to the new Mecklenburg County development and the intermodal transportation center at the airport.

Gaston County would leave the dark ages and charge into the 21st century.  This, however, takes determined leadership at all levels. Will our leaders act or let another opportunity go by?  It’s now or never.

Charles Gray
Former attorney

Ask Yourself

SEABROOK SAYS: Remember all of the good stuff as we all work to solve our problems.

Continuous Improvement

Ask Yourself:  Can Gaston get the big things done?

We have many critical issues that need our attention.  Here are a few:

  • Greater access to Charlotte
  • More jobs that our people can handle
  • Better education so more are qualified for better jobs
  • Attack poverty and keep poverty from draining us dry
  • Some houses of worship consistently make huge contributions, others offer very little engagement beyond trying to take care of their own

Here are good and big things happening now:

  • More than 30 churches and many volunteers are active with the Back Pack food program
  • Community leadership will get better at multiple levels
  • Completing the Loray Mill project
  • Created, built and are operating the Highland School of Technology
  • Decreased teen pregnancy rate more than 30%
  • Became an All American City – twice
  • Unemployment rate dropped to 5% after loosing our textile industry
  • High school graduation rate has become much higher, the dropout rate much lower
  • 19,000 students are now attending Gaston College
  • Greater Gaston Development Corporation is actively helping Gaston County grow and finding jobs

All of us must continuously improve in all that we do!

Are you supportive of the changes needed?

Bill Seabrook
Digging Deeper