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Publisher's Pen: Fayetteville and Cumberland County need a strong Chamber of Commerce

1 This past Thursday, April 21, we were fortunate to host the April Chamber of Commerce Coffee Club. Up & Coming Weekly has been a Chamber of Commerce member and advocate for twenty-six years and sponsoring this event for over fifteen years. It’s always been a fun, enjoyable and worthwhile experience. This year the timing was nearly perfect. After two years of COVID restrictions, local economic and entrepreneurial opportunities are abundant. Organizations like the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and established businesses like ours are vitally important to new business development and ultimate success. The Coffee Club is only one example of how our chamber offers value to its members.

Thursday’s event was graciously hosted by Chamber Board Chairwoman Tammy Thurman, the community relations director for Piedmont Natural Gas. Also in attendance were several other members of their board, though not nearly the attendance you would expect from an organization with twenty-plus board members; members of the business community charged with providing leadership, vision and guidance to this fast-growing business community.

The chamber’s mission statement outlines its purpose: “Our organization serves as a catalyst in growing a healthy business community through our advocacy of business-friendly public policy, fostering of diverse, innovative business initiatives, and delivering valuable programs and services to our members — all made possible through strong collaborative partnerships.”

Well, then, they need to get started because much work needs to be done in these areas. And, if the enthusiasm and organization of this last event is any indication of things to come, then I commend Thurman and the few notable board members who took the time to attend: the effervescent Master of Ceremony Gary Rogers, Fort Bragg Garrison Commander Col. Scott Pence, Public Works Commission CEO Elaina Ball, Interim President of the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Randy Fiveash, and Robert Van Geons of Fayetteville/Cumberland County Economic Development. A scant sampling of the prestigious board charged with the mission statement quoted above.

Chamber leadership, direction, vision and support are vital for nurturing new businesses and assisting existing businesses in taking advantage of economic opportunities. Thriving and growing communities all have strong and established chambers. And all influential chambers have talented, dedicated leadership with business savvy, vision and respectability. These chambers have little or no dependency on local government agencies for funding. Strong chambers are self-supporting, utilizing local partnerships, effective fundraisers and maintaining a committed and loyal membership base. A strong chamber is best achieved by providing value to the members. Creating value and loyalty is accomplished by setting a good example, being a staunch and vocal supporter, and advocating for all local businesses and organizations.

For whatever reasons, our Chamber of Commerce has sidelined itself during the past several years, becoming irrelevant to the business community by not getting involved and failing to take a stand on important issues that impact local businesses, chamber members and the community. However, I see this changing for the better. This year we see new faces and personalities on the board. Stepping up are experienced leaders who understand business and, more importantly, the uniqueness of this community and the need to be informed and involved with important issues that affect business and economic growth.

They understand that the chamber serves all businesses in Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

It is my hope that they realize and take seriously that Fayetteville and Cumberland County are unique, with business and community environments far different from other cities and towns across the country. To be successful here and to effect positive change, one must recognize and understand the nuances of this community. An effective chamber understands the community’s diversity.

They know our media (or lack of) impacts businesses; we must stay informed on important issues related to our businesses. They need to know about Fort Bragg’s economic impact on our community and how military turnover influences almost every aspect of our lives.

Yes, Fayetteville and Cumberland County need a strong chamber. This is a fabulous community with amazing opportunities. With a new chamber board recently installed, I hope we will see an aggressive future vision.

Thurman gets it, and so do the board members who attended the Coffee Club last Thursday. Let’s hope the rest of the board will follow suit.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Viking tale tells of tree at the end of the world

Pitt Excitement is boiling. Here comes Arbor Day. That celestial holiday got me pondering what the Vikings thought about trees. Voila: today’s lesson is about the Vikings’ sacred tree Yggdrasil. What? You say you have never heard of Yggdrasil? Well, listen my children, and you shall hear of the midnight tree called Yggdrasil.

The Yggdrasil tree is the pillar of Viking theology. It was so big it not only held up, but also connected all the elements of the universe. The Yggdrasil was like the Dark Matter that our modern-day astronomer theologists believe in. Yiggy, as his friends called him, was Norse for Odin’s Horse. Yiggy’s top branches reached somewhere far above the rainbow where only Elon Musk could fly.
His roots went all the way into the underworld land of the dead. Yiggy was quite the tree. He was a veritable eco-system with a Dragon named Nidhogg and a bunch of snakes at the bottom, and an enchanted eagle at the top. There was also a pesky squirrel named Drill-Tooth who ran up and down the trunk causing mischief by repeating insults from the Dragon and the eagle to keep things stirred up.

Odin was the King of the Viking Gods who hung out with the other lesser gods in a party treehouse called Asgard at the top of Yiggy. Yiggy’s roots dipped into the bottomless Well of Urd. Three bodacious goddesses called Norns were lounging around, deciding humanity’s fate. The Norns would cut Runes into Yiggy’s bark which dictated what would happen on Earth. This aggravated Odin because he couldn’t read the Runes. Odin cyphered that if he hung himself from a branch of Yiggy, stabbed himself with a spear, and stared into the Well of Urd he would come to understand Runes. After spending nine days hanging around, Odin had a moment of clarity. Eureka, he understood the Runes! But knowing the future does not always lead to safe and restful sleep.

With Runic knowledge comes the Viking’s version of the end of the world — Ragnarok, in which the gods and man come to a bad end. If the Vikings are right, this is what is in store for us. The Norns bring on the world’s worst cold weather — The Great Winter, which lasts three years. Famine and pestilence stalk the land. Cannibalism becomes the new fad diet.

The Two Big Bad Wolves Hati and Skoll, who have been chasing the moon and sun like a dog chasing a car, finally succeed in their quest. They chow down on all celestial bodies, including the stars. The sky turns black and empty. Even Yiggy starts to shake. Another giant wolf named Fenrir breaks his chain and runs wild on the land chomping hapless humans.

Remember Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent? His evil twin, the giant sea serpent Jormungand, rises like the Kraken from the ocean depths and swamps the land.

The waves break loose the good ship Naglfar — the Nail Ship. The Nail Ship is so named because it is constructed of dead humans’ fingernails and toenails. Not sure what the Vikings were smoking when they came up with this, but you can probably buy it in California. The crew of the Nail Ship is a rowdy bunch of giants, led by Captain Loki, who start acting like drunken homicidal psychopathic sailors on extended shore leave. Fenrir the wolf is so big his upper jaw touches the sky as he eats everyone in his path. Jormungand spews venom all over the world, poisoning everything. Sort of like Putin in Ukraine or the former guy on Fox.

About this time, the sky cracks open, plopping a bunch of Fire Giants onto the Earth, ready to duke it out with Odin and
his boys.

The Viking Gods versus the Fire Giants. Odin gets eaten by Fenrir the wolf. Odin’s son Vidar goes ballistic and shoves his magic shoe into Fenrir’s mouth. While Fenrir is choking on the shoe, Vidar cuts Fenrir’s throat. Fenrir then expires. Thor and Jormungand get into it, resulting in the deaths of both of them. What is left of the world then collapses into the ocean, leaving nothing behind but a giant pool of dirty, bloody, reeking water.

The end.

So, what have we learned today? The Vikings were much weirder than we give them credit for. There is a new movie coming out at the end of April called “The Northman” which is supposed to be historically accurate.

Go see the movie if this column has not turned you off to Vikings. If someone yells Ragnarok in a movie theater, hurry up and finish your popcorn, as time is about up.
Reading Runes is fundamental. Ragnarok and Roll is here to stay.

North Carolina seems to be bouncing back

Hood Most states have still failed to recover the jobs lost during the depths of the COVID crisis in 2020. North Carolina is not, however, one of those states.

From February 2020 to February 2022, we experienced an employment increase of 1.5%, representing a net gain of 67,600 jobs. That ranks us 6th in job growth since the onset of COVID. Only 10 other states are in positive territory over the past two years: Utah (5.1%), Idaho (5.1%), Montana (3.1%), Texas (1.7%), Florida (1.7%), Arizona (1.3%), Georgia (1.2%), Tennessee (1.2%), Arkansas (0.9%), and Colorado (0.3%).

If we measure the recovery not by employment but by overall output, our state still fares well. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, North Carolina’s real GDP has grown by an annualized average of 1.7% since the start of 2020, faster than the Southeast (1.1%) and the nation as a whole (0.8%).

There’s no question our state suffered mightily during the COVID crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people lost jobs or incomes. Millions suffered unprecedented restrictions on their personal liberty. And more than 23,000 of our fellow North Carolinians lost their lives.

Whatever you think of the public-health benefits of the stringent executive orders Gov. Roy Cooper imposed during the first few months of the COVID crisis, they certainly had a substantial dampening effect on the state’s economy. I assume the governor would grant the existence of such a downside, arguing that achieving North Carolina’s lower-than-average death rates was worth the cost. Others might question whether the state’s mandates were really the main cause of those lower death rates.

As an economic matter, though, North Carolina clearly bounced back more strongly from the COVID recession than most states did. Why? I'll offer three possible (and not mutually exclusive) explanations.

First, our state and local governments were comparatively well-prepared. During much of the past decade, lawmakers had prudently increased state savings while making North Carolina a more attractive place to work, invest, and create jobs by reforming our tax code, regulatory process, and infrastructure programs. These policy decisions served as the equivalent of a giant neon sign with the words “Do Business Here!” and a giant arrow pointing to North Carolina.

So even as some industries were swooning — and some businesses such as downtown restaurants were closing their doors for good — other industries were in a position to expand once the worst of the crisis was over.

They were already in place in North Carolina or looking closely at the state for their next major investments.

A second explanation might be that our economy's exposure to a pandemic-induced downturn was somewhat lower than those of our peers because of differences in structure. A smaller share of our population lives in urban centers, for example. And tourism, while an important part of North Carolina’s service sector, doesn't make up as large a share of GDP as it does in, say, our neighbor South Carolina.

Finally, our state has what many households and businesses are looking for in COVID’s aftermath. Remote work has finally come into its own, freeing up some workers to choose homes and communities based on quality of life rather than proximity to downtown employment districts. While cross-state relocations don’t yet constitute a flood by historical standards, North Carolina is one of the most popular destinations for those looking to reinvent themselves — and their businesses — in more a more congenial clime.

To say North Carolina is bouncing back is not to say everyone is coming along for the bouncy ride. Too many displaced workers remain on the sidelines of the labor market. Beyond a couple dozen urban and suburban counties, many other parts of the state continue to face major economic development challenges. Furthermore, increased reliance on remote work brings costs as well as benefits. Some restaurants and service businesses catering to office workers may turn out to be unsustainable in their current form.

Nevertheless, things could be worse. In most of the country, in fact, they are.

Publisher's Pen: "PWC Jaywalkers" put the ‘hometown feeling’ into ‘hometown utility'

pub pen Just weeks ago, in March, the Public Works Commission was awarded the 2021 Spirit of North Carolina Award by the United Way of North Carolina for their dedication and consistent community investment in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. This award is earned not only by achieving annual campaign excellence but by demonstrating leadership, engaging volunteers and participating in and organizing events that impact the residents of the entire community.

I don't think there is another quasi-government affiliated organization that has ever reached this level of success. Out of nearly two dozen United Way organizations in North Carolina, our Fayetteville ”Hometown Utility” has been distinguished and honored with this award 16 times. This success is excellent, born of not leadership, compassion and love of community. PWC's leadership and employees demonstrate what our community is all about every day.

Just weeks later, the American Public Power Association recognized PWC with the Reliable Public Power Provider Diamond designation for providing safe, consistent and reliable electric service to their customers.

Competing with over 250 public utilities nationwide, our Fayetteville PWC is the only power utility company that has earned the Diamond level recognition six times. It's hard to hide leadership excellence.

This excellence was further demonstrated this weekend when PWC leadership under the ”PWC Jaywalkers” flag organized their own Jaywalkers Alzheimer’s Awareness Golf Tournament for retired Assistant City Manager Jay Reinstein, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Reinstein was a dedicated city servant but has become a spokesman and relentless supporter and advocate for Alzheimer’s Awareness.

The event, held at Kings Grant Golf Course, was a huge success. In just five weeks, PWC CEO Elaina Ball and Communications Director/Community Relations Manager Carolyn Justice-Hinson rallied dozens of PWC employees, community volunteers, and local businesses. Together they successfully raised over $23,000. This money will support Reinstein’s Alzheimer’s medical treatments and benefit the Fayetteville Walk to End Alzheimer’s on April 29th at Segra Stadium. Since Reinstein's retirement in 2018, his team of JayWalkers has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the cause.

This golf tournament was a fantastic event for a great cause that benefited a great guy. The fun, fellowship and love that radiated from that gathering is inspiring and only reinforces what the Fayetteville community is and should be all about. Ball and her PWC leadership team continue to set gracious examples of how business, professionalism and humanity are achieved by just doing the right things for the right reasons. From this, we all can learn. A special shoutout to City Councilwoman Kathy Keefe-Jenson is in order; she was the only elected official for the city or county to come out in support of one of their own.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Oh, my aching back

Lower back pain is a common reason people visit a healthcare provider. About four out of five people will experience some type of back pain. The causes of back pain can be numerous and either acute or chronic. It can come because of injuries, sprains, discs, sciatica, osteoporosis, age, job-related factors, etc. Proper diagnosis of back pain from a medical exam can usually identify the conditions causing the pain and medical treatment.

However, one form of back pain comes from our posture and not being physically fit. The spine may not be adequately supported because of a weak back and abdominal muscles. If you spend time sitting or riding, you may start to experience tightness in your hip flexors and weakness in your core, which begin to cause muscle imbalance. Working on your computer and looking at your cell phone can cause the upper back to become weaker and the shoulders to round forward. Other reasons that can contribute to poor posture are heavy purses and backpacks.

Have you ever caught a glimpse of yourself as you passed a storefront window and noticed that you were slouching? If your parents ever taught you to sit up straight, stand straight or quit slouching those were words of wisdom. Our joints are surrounded by muscles that are controlled and produce our movements. If one muscle becomes tight on the side of a joint, it causes the other side to become weak. Muscle imbalances can result in injury with repetitive movement or overuse. The good news is that posture-related back pain can be improved.

Knowing how your muscle imbalance is created may help you find the reason, and that, in conjunction with some exercise, could help you eliminate or significantly reduce your back pain. Repetitive motions are one of the first reasons for back pain, and switching it up might be an effective way to start. Ask yourself if you sit the same way every day, carry your purse on the same shoulder, play sports while engaging one side and work out using the same muscles? If you are in a job that requires you to remain seated, look for opportunities to stand up and move around. Slouching while driving, especially on long trips, can contribute to back pain.

While driving on long trips, get out of the car and stretch or reposition your seat. Exercising in the same plane of motion moves the body through the same repetitive motion, such as running, cycling or doing the same bicep curl each time you work out. Frequent wearing of high heel shoes can also contribute to posture-related problems because it can change the position of your knees and cause tightness in your calves. Exercise that targets our core is beneficial for back health and lessens the chance of injury or pain.

A healthy back is a result of a stable and strong core. Core strength is not about six-pack abdominals because developing strong core muscles make a happy back. The core is any muscle that attaches to the spine or pelvis. Core exercises can include planks, bird dogs, reverse crunches, cat-cow, bridges and hamstring stretches. Stretching is also good for your back, such as the knee-chest stretches and group fitness classes that include barre, yoga and Pilates. Try to remember to lift by bending the knees and avoiding abdominal crunches because they stress the spine. Not all exercises help back pain; seek medical advice when in doubt. Live, love life with a healthy back!

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