Women rule!

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rebecca Martin (center), owner of The Mini Pearl boutique in Conway, accepts the Northampton County Chamber’s Small Business of the Year Award from Chamber President Sidney Joyner and Executive Director Judy Collier. | Staff Photos by Cal Bryant

Rebecca Martin (center), owner of The Mini Pearl boutique in Conway, accepts the Northampton County Chamber’s Small Business of the Year Award from Chamber President Sidney Joyner and Executive Director Judy Collier. | Staff Photos by Cal Bryant

JACKSON – Perhaps officials with the Northampton County Chamber of Commerce could consider naming their annual meeting as Ladies Night – at least for the 2016 version of the event.

At the June 16 gathering of the Chamber, both of the major awards handed out landed in the hands of businesswomen while the featured speaker was also a female.

And, as an added attraction, the Chamber’s Executive Director is Judy Collier.

Rebecca Martin of Milwaukee saw her popular boutique – The Mini Pearl, located in downtown Conway – named as the Small Business of the Year by the Northampton Chamber. Southern Bank of Jackson earned the Corporate Business of the Year. That annual award was accepted by Meg Hall, Executive Vice President of the Jackson branch office.

“Rebecca started her business in her home, but she dreamed of bigger things and opening her own shop,” said Collier during the event held at the Northampton County Cultural & Wellness Center. “She did just that in Conway and that business is growing. We wish her continued success.”

“Each and every time I’ve gone to Meg to ask her to support us in any of our events, she has never turned me down,” Collier noted.

A special presentation was made to Jim and Judy Gossip.

“As you know, the Northampton Chamber started in 1995 in a little office,” Collier recalled. “In April of 1998, we had a new board member to join us and just about three years later he came to us with a bigger space. About that time he brought his wife onboard, and since that time they’ve both been big supporters of the Northampton Chamber. They were right there when we moved into the Northampton Visitors Center (in Jackson) and without them the Chamber may not be where we are today.”

Pam Ballew, Executive Director of the Center for Energy Education, located at old Roanoke Rapids Airport, was the featured speaker. She touted the ongoing growth and success at the non-profit Center, one that promotes the thriving atmosphere of solar development in North Carolina.

Ballew, a native of Halifax County and a graduate of NC State University, said the Center creates a presence and awareness for renewable energy here locally that will further solidify the relationship between the solar industry and the citizens of the Roanoke Valley.

The mission of the Center is to provide educational resources for renewable energy and sustainable living. The 5,000 square-feet, state-of-the-art facility is projected to open in Halifax County in October 2016. Situated on a 60-acre site adjacent to a 30MW solar farm, the goal of the Center is to become a hub for the renewable energy industry by providing information about renewable energy, create awareness, offer courses and hands-on training, and also will inspire students and visitors to get involved with renewable energy.

“We need to do more to harness what hits us on the shoulders every day (sunshine); we don’t have to dig it out of the planet; it’s clean, it’s safe and it’s efficient,” said Ballew about solar energy development.

At the Center, the pending opening of its main building will feature meeting space, office space and a tele-conference classroom.

“The classroom will feature inter-active exhibits where participants can come in and learn through a hands-on experience about renewable energy, to include not only solar, but hydro energy as well,” Ballew said.

She added that the Center was not just a Halifax County project, but one open to all of northeastern North Carolina, and beyond.

“We want to be a cutting edge space where education research and industry leading professionals work and learn side-by-side,” Ballew stressed. “We also want to be a space where the local community finds the inspiration and opportunity to become an energy professional and advocates for the sustainable energy of tomorrow.”

The Center will incorporate public walking trails into its land use plan. Future plans calls for a business center at the facility. There will also be an outdoor shelter, complete with restrooms, for use when the Center is closed.

Ballew said the Center has received a grant to train middle school science teachers in a solar curriculum that can be integrated into the current curriculum. The course was developed and presented by Dr. Teresa Cowan and Kimberly Gervase of North Carolina State University. Teachers representing middle schools from throughout Halifax and Northampton counties participated in a two-day event where they also received training in the use of hands-on classroom kits, which were developed through grant funds.

“We equipped those teachers with hands-on science kits because that’s the way children like to learn,” Ballew said of the solar-based curriculum. “We gave them small solar panels to use and devices that measure solar energy.”

She added that 13 teachers benefitted from the original program, one that will be expanded in the coming school year to elementary and high school teachers.

A community workshop at the Center was used to share information with the public on how solar farms are developed, beginning with the permitting process, all the way to time when they are decommissioned decades down the road.

Another project underway at the Center is introducing roof-top solar panels. Ballew said the Center is searching for contractors interested in learning how to install roof-top solar.

“We use experts in the solar industry to explain and answer the public’s questions,” she remarked.

The Center is also working with a number of partners in bringing customized training to a broad clientele. Among the partners are North Carolina State University, Halifax Community College and Halifax County Economic Development. In addition, they are exploring mutually beneficial terms with East Carolina University’s Sustainable Tourism program and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s EPIC program.

Ballew said the Center is also working with NC State to devise a customized training program for a large-scale utility in eastern North Carolina. This program comprises an entry-level PV course, an O&M course and sessions tailored individually for the needs of the company.

Locally, the Center recently completed its first tailored training course to meet the demands for skilled workers in the operation and maintenance needs of utility scale solar. Ballew said Roanoke Electric Cooperative is extending its business model to cross-train lineman to support solar farms in the area and asked the Center to provide training in the field of operations and maintenance.

Over the past several months, 12 linemen from Roanoke Electric were trained in techniques for operation and maintenance of solar production facilities. They were provided intensive training in the specifics including the various components of the solar farm, as well an interconnections and monitoring, adding a new dimension of skill for these highly-trained lineman.

“(Roanoke Electric CEO) Curtis Wynn is very forward-thinking; he sees all the solar development in eastern North Carolina and saw an opportunity to expand the skill set of his linemen,” Ballew said. “That training will allow Roanoke Electric to enter into service contracts with large-scale solar farms. Skilled workers are needed for those operations.”

Additionally, the Center is working with The Science House at NC State University to establish an Eastern North Carolina satellite office in Halifax County. Ballew said this relationship would touch a wider audience of K12 students over a large geographic region.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting things ongoing and upcoming, and we invite you to come be a part of what we are offering,” Ballew closed.

For more information, visit www.center4ee.org

The meeting featured acoustic entertainment from Ann Meadows. Rev. Raymond Joyner, a Commissioner for the Town of Rich Square, gave the invocation.

It also served as the election of Northampton Chamber officers for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. Those officers are: Sidney Joyner (President), Doug Miller (1st Vice President), Robert Wilkins (2nd Vice President), Robin Phillips (Secretary), and Jim Gossip (Treasurer).

Town of Garysburg Administrator Diane Gallimore of Seaboard was also elected as a new member to the Chamber’s Board of Directors. She replaces Susan Skinner, who moved to Kinston.

New Chamber members introduced included Hair Affair on US 301 in Garysburg, and Longview Retreat /Abide in Him Ministries of US 158 in Garysburg.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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