CHAMBER BANQUET: Mayors, leaders "bullish" on county economic future

Mar. 12, 2014 @ 09:08 PM

The mayors of Sanford and Broadway, along with several local business leaders, spoke at the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce's annual membership meeting Wednesday night to declare Lee County is back on the upswing.

And while many stuck to broad, sweeping statements, Sanford Mayor Chet Mann peppered his speech with a detailed announcement that garnered a round of applause: A Hobby Lobby will open here this fall, a Marshall's will open next year, and Sanford could land up to 200,000 more square feet of retail that's still in the works and can't be revealed quite yet.

"I am very bullish on Sanford," Mann said when urging the dozens of local leaders at the meeting to become more involved, moments before he announced the new developments that will go in on Horner Boulevard near the Southside Plaza.

"I think an investment here will go a long way," he continued, adding that the new projects — not to mention a major, unnamed industrial employer Sanford is currently in an international competition to land — will help this area move forward "after four years of relatively flat growth."

His Broadway counterpart, Donald Andrews, said that the ongoing efforts to bring the Sanford-Lee County Partnership for Prosperity — the entity created by the merger of the Chamber of Commerce and the Lee County Economic Development Corporation — will aid in the county in springing forward out of the recession that has kept the county down and stalled the local economy.

Brad Simpson, the chairman of the chamber's board of directors, spoke bluntly about the hard times this area has seen in the past four years, and some of the efforts going back even further than that which he said local leaders did a great job of planning but not of finishing.

"If there's one thing this community does well, it's plan," Simpson said. "We have planned. We have met. We have dreamed."

But now, Simpson said, is the time to end those preliminary stages and get to the point. Yet he cautioned that it can't happen unless the community all comes together to support the Partnership for Prosperity and other local groups and efforts dedicated to improving this area.

Bob Joyce, president of the Chamber of Commerce, echoed Simpson's remarks about coming together. He said the past several years have probably been the worst in the chamber's 76-year history, but he also said it appears a better economic future is on the horizon.

"We believe we're ready for it, and we believe it's Lee County's time," Joyce said.

But it wasn't all looking ahead. Duke Energy, which helped sponsor the banquet, looked back to the worst days of the recession in giving out a citizenship award to Teresa Dew Kelly.

Kelly became executive director of Christians United Outreach Center, which operates the largest local food bank at its Lee Avenue facility, five years right around the time the recession began. Yet with donations dwindling and demand growing — the group has reportedly been serving about 750 families a month — Kelly grew CUOC's partnership list to include more than 60 local churches and more than 110 local businesses. She gave them, and the individual volunteers, credit for the award.

"It is with a team that I'm able to do what I do," Kelly said. "I couldn't do it alone. We've got 300 volunteers in our community."