Wagaya, it’s Japanese for our home, and is a saying referring to the spirit and energy in a room, something that was positive and in abundance Thursday night during the annual meeting of the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce, according to key speaker Will Collins.
“It is so powerful in this room, it is good and infectious,” said Collins, assistant secretary of North Carolina Commerce for Workforce and vice president of North Carolina Community Colleges for Workforce.
Thursday’s speaker took time to share how North Carolina is changing its pathway to helping business and industry as well as its citizens looking for employment, and then the chamber took care of its annual business including awarding a number of area residents and businesses with special honors for their contributions to the community and installing a new chairman and board members.
“Elkin reminds me of Madison,” said Collins, comparing Elkin to his hometown. “The river flowing here like the Dan River, the railroad tracks, and the look of Main Street. When I was sitting here it reminded me of a group of people who love their town so much. It is fun to see that.”
After working in human resources in the private sector for 40 years, the last 14 of them for a Japanese company in the automotive industry, Collins was offered the position with the state. “I’ve only been a bureaucrat for 18 months,” he said. “When I can into the state government, I looked at things in a different light.
“When I came into this work, I asked a lot questions about what does workforce do,” he said of the conversations he had with his staff. “They would say it is really complicated. So I said I’m an old country boy from Madison, dumb it down for me. And the kept saying it was really complicated.”
He said in the end they “narrowed it down — you’ve got to take the job seekers and tie them to employers.”
The next step was something Collins said was innovative for North Carolina and something other states have called wanting to know how to emulate. The state officials launched the new NC Works program, kicked off by Governor Pat McCrory in September. They talked to 10 employers in all 100 counties in 100 days through cooperation with community colleges, Department of Public Instructions, Employment Security Commissions and other partnering entities.
“They all got along and accomplished something, and it worked well,” he said. “So we decided to have quarterly meetings all over the state and share what worked well, the best practices.”
NC Works staff sit down with employers and ask them what they need from the government and from schools and from skill trainers to provide employees that will be productive, good workers, Collins said.
“We’ve identified not a skills gap as much as an interest gap. We’ve got to identify where the interest is,” he said. “We are structuring work-based learning — coops, internships, apprenticeships.
“When job seekers come in our job centers, we don’t just hand them an application. We sit with them and design a career path, how to make a resume, teach interview skills, we are helping them plan a career.”
He said ncworks.gov is free and all of the services there and through the job centers are free. The website matches a person’s resume with a job and tells the job seeker how many other skills the person may need to qualify for the job. “There are already 6,000 employers in the state registered on the site,” he said.
“NC Works is ahead of the curve in a lot of ways,” Collins said.
He mentioned the old saying, “I’m from the gov’ment and I’m here to help you,” which was an old joke when the government used to come to areas and say these are the programs we have available if they fit what you need.
“I am from the government, but there is something new and a different team. We are from the government, we want you to understand and know from the heart and soul we are here to help and want you to tell us how to help you,” Collins said. “We’ve got a lot of things to offer.”
Board members installed; awards given
Outgoing chairman of the board for the Yadkin Valley Chamber Steve Owings of State Farm Insurance then introduced the new chairman, Jeff Eidson of G&B Energy, and handed off the remainder of the meeting to Eidson.
The officers for the 2015-16 year were installed. The executive committee members are Gary York, chair elect; Owings, past chair; Don Trippel, treasurer; Wendy Billings, assistant treasurer; Jennifer Lewis, legal counsel; Scott Buffkin, governmental affairs; Matthew Delano, community betterment; Allison Moxley, education; Nathan Lewis, ambassador; Jeannette Hendrick, public affairs; Denise Brown, organizational improvement; and Josh Smith, tourism. Board of directors are Frank Beals, Dr. Richard Brinegar, David Cline, George Crater, Jim Douthit, Brittany Eller, Don Hudson, Holly Lamm, Gilda Pruitt, Barry Reavis, Melanie Senter, Melissa Smithy, Debbie Tadlock, Michael Ward and Jeff Yockel.
Eight awards were presented to members of the community for their service. This year’s awards were hand-made pieces of pottery from local resident, Johnny Pardue.
The Johnsie Hudspeth Volunteer of the Year award, presented to a member who has donated time and energy to the betterment of the community, was given to Ann Ashman. It was presented by Taylor Clark of Chick-fil-A of Mount Airy.
The Web Smalling Corporate Citizen award went to two people — Barry Reavis and Frank Beals, both of Edward Jones, and is awarded to a member who makes a different in their communities by using their time, talents and compassion to positively impact the lives of others. Chamber President Myra Cook presented the awards.
The Rebel Good award, given to in honor of a person, business or organization and their efforts to promote the Yadkin Valley as a tourist destination, was given to Zim Zimmerman and Cedarbrook Country Club. Brittany Eller presented the award.
In receiving his award, Zimmerman said to those at the meeting, “It takes people like you to make the community what it is. That’s why it keeps getting better.”
This year’s Duke Energy Citizenship and Service award was presented to former town manager Lloyd Payne, who moved just recently to Concord after serving as Elkin town manager for 10 years. It was presented by Jerry Stroud of Duke Energy.
Upon accepting her Education Excellence award, Cynthia Allred, retired head librarian for the Jonesville Public Library, spent several minutes recalling the history of the Jonesville entity, how she came to get the job and that she worked hard to make sure it was a place for everyone. She also encouraged everyone to make sure the library system remains active and available for everyone. The award was presented by Elkin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe.
The Community Beautification award was presented to an entire town this year. The town of Dobson was recognized for the addition of its splash pad, a free water element for the community to use that has brought visitors from near and far to play and enjoy. Town Manager Josh Smith and the Dobson Board of Commissioners accepted the award presented by Pam Walker.
For the second consecutive year, Sherry Norman was recognized as the chamber’s Ambassador of the Year. Norman was with the Upper Yadkin Valley Habitat for Humanity for most of the year, but recently was hired by The Yadkin Ripple as an advertising representative. The award was presented by Nathan Lewis.
Honoring the Member of the Year, a member who donates their time and energy to make the community a better place to work and live and has been recognized as a member of the month during the year, Jerry Stroud presented the award to Chick-fil-A of Mount Airy, with Taylor Clark accepting on behalf of Chad Tidd, franchise owner.
Eidson thanked all the members attending for the difference they make in the community.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.